HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One in six Hawai'i residents receives Social Security benefits, but that number is expected to increase considerably. In 2010, the state's elderly population was 15% but by 2030, it's expected to reach 22%.
The average beneficiary gets around $1,100 a month in Social Security, but studies indicate it's the sole source of income for one in four Hawai'i residents who are 65 and older.
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz has partnered with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa to create legislation that would increase Social Security benefits by about $65 a month.
Schatz says their plan would also change the way the annual cost of living is adjusted to reflect the real costs seniors face. If approved, the Harkin-Schatz bill would also remove the current wage cap.
"Currently a person making $114,000 worth of income pays the same dollar amount in Social Security tax as someone who makes $3 or $4 million in income— and we just don't think that's fair. We think that's a problem in the tax code that has to be remedied," explained U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, outside the steps of the Federal Building Thursday afternoon.
Senator Schatz, who lives with his father-in-law, says he understands the struggle many local elderly are facing to get by on a fixed income. The average benefit is around $14,000 per year. He says his plan will ensure loved ones, now and in the future, will "be able to retire in dignity, not poverty".
Bobbi Takeshita is thrilled with the idea.
"It's just exactly what we need. It's wonderful. I fall into that category where I need it to expand," explained Takeshita, who once worked as a flight attendant and in real estate.
"For me, it's going to make a big difference because I just get the minimum right now unless I go to my son or daughter and say, 'Help Mommy out'. I'm on my own, so it's going to make a big difference," Takeshita said.
If approved, Schatz says the bill will extend the life of the Social Security program and trust fund to 2049.
"It's critical that we start to resolve these issues to provide solvency for the system to expand it and make sure that the same social safety net that we rely on today will be into the future," said State Representative Chris Lee, who attended Senator Schatz's announcement Thursday.
"240,000 people here in Hawai'i – one in six – benefit from this, and that's something absolutely important to understand as we move ahead because what this bill will do is tie into Social Security the cost of living. And what that means is that folks who need that support the most, folks in district's like mine – Waimanalo and Kailua – who depend on those dollars in their retirement to pay for groceries and everything else, will have a little bit more to make it here in Hawai'i where it's critically important because our cost of living is so high," explained Representative Lee.
Schatz admits the bill faces opposition in the House.
"The Republicans in the House and the Tea Party seem bound and determined to undermine Social Security and I think it's important for we Democrats in the Senate to stake out a position that not only are we not entertaining cutting Social Security, but we ought to be thinking about ways to enhance the program – both for the beneficiaries and for the trust fund to be healthy over the long run," said Schatz.
"I think it's fair to say that there is broad bi-partisan support among people, among voters, for strengthening and enhancing of Social Security. So while there may be disagreement in the Senate over whether or not to enhance Social Security – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike all understand that Social Security is a lifeline for our seniors and ought to be strengthened rather than undermined," described Schatz.