In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama called on the nation to throw aside our differences and create an “America built to last”—one that revives the “basic American promise that if you worked hard you could do well enough to raise a family, own home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.” As our name implies, Generations United believes that we all must work together to revive America…because we’re stronger together.
As President Obama noted, “A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstances…. Teachers matter. So, instead of bashing them…. Give [schools] the resources to keep good teachers on the job…” Generations United applauds the President’s recognition that investing in our education system is essential to the rebuilding process.
We believe that older adults can play a key role in that rebuilding process. Older adults are one of our nation’s few growing natural resources and can offer the individual attention and wisdom of experience that children need. A prime example is Experience Corps, an evidence-based program that engages adults over 55 to provide literacy coaching, homework help, consistent role models, and committed, caring attention to young people. Independent research has shown that Experience Corps boosts student academic performance, helps schools and youth-serving organizations become more successful, and enhances the well-being of older adults in the process. Currently, 2,000 older adults are involved in Experience Corps in 19 cities across the nation. Given the number of Baby Boomers now retiring, we could easily increase that number.
Older adults can play a critical role in promoting high-quality early education and care, as well. While not highlighted in his address, President Obama is a strong supporter of early learning, a critical element of any rebuilding process. Statistics have shown over and over that children who are exposed to high-quality learning early in life do better in school--and later in life. That makes sense. After all, 75 percent of brain development and 85 percent of intellect, personality, and social skills develop before age 5.
Research has found that funding for early childhood education provides the greatest documented return for the expenditure. That is why Generations United has rallied thousands of older adults to advocate on behalf of our children through our Seniors4Kids initiative. These dedicated adults keep lawmakers focused on the need for and efficacy of early learning.
Along with revitalizing elementary education and investing in early learning initiatives, we must also focus on higher education. As the President rightly noted, “Higher education can’t be a luxury—it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.” At the same time, he acknowledged that the cost of college can be daunting for today’s students. While we applaud the President’s support for extending the tuition tax credit, Generations United urges Congress to do more to assist particularly vulnerable young people, those whose parent(s) are diseased or disabled. One way is by reinstating the student benefit under Social Security. That provision would help young people who have lost a parent or whose parent is disabled to receive survivor benefits through the age of 22 as long as they are enrolled in college. Social Security survivor and disability benefits can be a deciding factor in whether or not these young people can continue their education.
Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Health Care
“I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy and deny your coverage.” With those words, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the Affordable Care Act that will extend health care coverage to millions more Americans when it is fully implemented by 2014. We applaud his determination to ensure the program is preserved and continues to provide new critical health care coverage and protections to our nation’s younger and older people.
We are also heartened by the President’s statement that, “I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.” But, we urge President Obama to ensure he—and Congress—do not overlook the critical role Social Security also plays in the lives of nearly 7 million children today who receive part of their family income from it. The Social Security program is sound because, like America, it was “built to last.”
Appealing directly to lawmakers of both parties, the President said everyone must work together to renew Americans’ belief that we can solve today’s economic and social challenges. The answer, he said, is in a “…return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility. [This] will help us protect our people and our economy.
“Tax breaks either add to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference –like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That’s not right. Americans know it’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel the same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce the deficit. That’s an America built to last.”
We couldn’t agree more. We ardently believe that we cannot achieve recovery by placing an even bigger burden on those who need our protection the most: our children, youth, and older adults. Giving tax breaks to the wealthy and protecting corporate tax subsidies only shift the burden to the middle class. Rather, as the President noted, our fellow citizens’ well-being should “…guide us as we look to pay down our debt and invest in our future.”
Investing in our future means ensuring Americans have an adequate safety net of programs and services that can help them get back up on their feet and moving forward. It means looking out for each other and, together, creating an America built to last. Because we’re stronger together.