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Dignity & Security in Retirement

Last winter, after my father entered a hospitalization from which he would never recover, my mother and I sat down with a social worker to talk about options for the long-term care we thought he might need. I’ll always remember the social worker patiently explaining to my mom that her best course of action to cover Dad’s care might be for our family to spend everything we had until we were asset-poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. I remember thinking, “Is that how this works in America?”

It is a fact of life that we and the people we love grow older. With aging can come deep satisfaction and joy—the chance to slow down, or travel, or play with a new grandchild. It can also bring hardship, as a worker frets about whether she has sufficient savings to retire or a husband weighs whether to move his spouse to a nursing home.

For the first time in our nation’s history, there will be more older adults than children. In 2020, half of adults who reach 65 will require long-term care.

As Baby Boomers continue to approach retirement, more and more Americans are confronting the challenges of aging. After full careers, many Americans continue working longer because they can’t afford to retire. For the first time in our nation’s history, there will be more older adults than children.Vespa, John. “The U.S Joins Other Countries with Large Aging Populations.” U.S. Census Bureau. October 8, 2019 In 2020, half of adults who reach 65 will require long-term care.Favreault, Melissa, and Judith Dey. “Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Americans: Risks and Financing Research Brief.” July 1, 2015. We adjusted for inflation. By 2026, we will require 7.8 million new care jobs. At the same time, more and more Americans are becoming eligible for Social Security—even as the Trump Administration has attempted to undermine Americans’ retirement by cutting billions of dollars from Social Security over the next decade.

Politicians in Washington have known this crisis was intensifying for years. And for years, they have failed to address it. It is time for a new approach. I am determined to usher in a new era for older Americans, one that empowers them to age and retire with dignity. One that equips them and their families with a sense of security over their futures, allowing them to see it as a time filled with possibility.

In this new era, we will uphold that unshakable promise that every American should be able to maintain a decent standard of living when they retire. We will honor and support our nation’s caregivers—who are primarily women and disproportionately Black, Latino, and immigrant—and treat them with the respect they deserve.

I am determined to usher in a new era for older Americans, one that empowers them to age and retire with dignity.

My plan also ensures that older Americans have freedom in retirement through greater choice. We will protect the ability of older Americans to choose the health plan that works best for them by preserving Medicare Advantage, a private Medicare plan that over 20 million older Americans selected for this year; eliminate roadblocks to aging in place so seniors can age at home or in their community if they prefer; and institute a Public Option 401(k) so that all workers have the opportunity to save for and achieve financial security in retirement.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey observed that “the moral test of government” is, in part, how we treat “those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly.” Under my administration, we will meet that moral test and ensure every American has respect, dignity, and a sense of belonging in retirement and health security at home.

Long-Term Care

Make long-term care more affordable.

It’s not easy or cheap to age these days. Over one in four older Americans will spend more than $50,000 on long-term care costs across their lifetime. About one in ten will spend upwards of a quarter of a million dollars.Favreault, Melissa, and Judith Dey. “Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Americans: Risks and Financing Research Brief.” July 1, 2015. These financial expenses are expected to increase as the over-65 population grows. This makes the need for a system to help Americans plan for and manage these costs even more urgent.Ibid. Pete is proposing a new, historic long-term services and supports program to help cover the costs of long-term care for older Americans with a high level of need. Specifically, he will:

  • Establish Long-Term Care America, a historic long-term services and supports program. Those eligible will receive a fully-covered benefit of $90 per day for long-term care for as long as they need it. Of people currently 65 or older, 11.3 million people will receive benefits from the program at some point in their life.Ibid.
  • Strengthen the private long-term care insurance market for those with shorter-term long-term care needs by standardizing plans and establishing a long-term care insurance marketplace.
Long-Term Care America

Fully support direct care workers and unpaid family caregivers.

Unpaid family caregivers and professional direct care workers, three-quarters of whom are women,Family Caregiver Alliance. “Caregiver Statistics: Demographics.” April 17, 2019. play an essential part in providing care to aging adults and people with disabilities, including dementia. They help ensure that these people can live in their own homes and communities. We are in an ever-worsening caregiving crisis. This crisis is driven by poor working conditions and a need for care workers that, if left unaddressed, could mean almost eight million unfilled jobs by 2026.Bryant, Bailey. “Caregiver Shortage Could Mean 7.8 Million Unfilled Jobs by 2026.” Home Health Care News. January 28, 2019. Pete will take the following actions to address these challenges:

  • Set a $15 per hour minimum wage for everyone, including direct care workers. This will increase wages for about 1.8 million personal care aides and 650,000 home health aides.Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018: Personal Care Aides.” March 29, 2019. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018: Home Health Aides.” March 29, 2019.
  • Ensure that direct care workers have power and representation in the workplace.
  • Meet future demand for care workers by increasing opportunities and training, helping states develop online marketplaces and job boards for care workers, and expanding programs to train caregivers and create career ladders.
  • Guarantee quality direct care work by setting national standards through a National Direct Care Workforce Standards Board.
  • Improve family caregivers’ access to services and supports, including through long-term care navigators and community-based service hubs.
Caregiver Crisis

Expand access to long-term care at home and in communities.

Most people nearing retirement age prefer to age in their home, yet it gets harder to remain in place as people age.AARP. “2018 Home and Community Preferences Survey: A National Survey of Adults Age 18-plus.” August 2018. Even among public plans, such as Medicaid, there is a bias toward institutional care that deprives people the opportunity to age where they feel most comfortable. Pete’s administration will help ensure that everyone has the option of aging at home or in their community. He will:

  • Improve the accessibility of Medicaid’s long-term care, including by raising asset and income limits, and barring Medicaid from taking families' homes to pay for their long-term care.
  • Create a national program to expand access to consumer-directed service models, including by setting standards and ensuring access to self-directed, home-based services.
Public Option 401k Graphic
  • Ensure everyone has the choice of receiving long-term care at home or in their community, including by eliminating Medicaid’s institutional bias, mandating coverage of home- and community-based services, and expanding coverage of home- and community-based care.
  • Enhance Medicare coverage of non-elderly people who are disabled and expand home- and community-based care benefits, including by eliminating the two-year waiting period for Medicaid coverage for people on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program.
  • Help seniors age in their community by increasing funding for the Older Americans Act.
  • Protect Americans' right to choose health care coverage that work best for them through Medicare for All Who Want It, and ensure access to safe and affordable treatment through Affordable Medicine for All.

Improve quality of life for people in long-term care.

Quality of life varies considerably in home care or long-term care facilities, which includes residential care communities and nursing homes. Although many facilities provide high-quality, compassionate care to residents, some have been described as “treacherous” places for older people.Rau, Jordan. “Half the time nursing homes scrutinized on safety by Medicare are still treacherous.” Kaiser Health News. July 6, 2017. While some facilities appallingly push out poor and disabled patients into homelessness, others’ negligent care can result in avoidable and fatal sepsis infections.Schulte, Fred, Elizabeth Lukas, Joe Mahr. “In Illinois’ understaffed nursing homes, deadly infections persist from bedsores and common injuries that go untreated.” Chicago Tribune & Kaiser Health News. September 5, 2018. Pete is committed to increasing oversight of long-term care facilities to ensure they can provide the highest quality care to all residents. He will:

  • Implement and enforce minimum staffing ratios at long-term care facilities.
  • Address abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older people by fully funding Adult Protective Services and the long-term care ombudsman program.
  • Improve the quality of life in residential care communities, including assisted-living facilities, by setting federal standards.
  • Better address seniors’ mental health and combat rising social isolation and loneliness including by expanding community-based programs that help strengthen communal bonds.

Social Security & Retirement Savings

Expand the promise of Social Security.

Social Security is the main reason poverty among seniors fell from 35 percent in 1960 to 10 percent today.Cawthorne, Alexandra. “Elderly Poverty: The Challenge Before Us.” Center for American Progress. July 30, 2008. Cubanski, Juliette, Wyatt Koma, Anthony Damico, and Tricia Neuman. “How Many Seniors Live in Poverty?” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, November 20, 2018. Engelhardt, Gary, and Jonathan Gruber. "Social security and the evolution of elderly poverty." Public Policy and the Distribution of Income. Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 259-287. Despite what many Republicans erroneously claim, Social Security is not facing imminent insolvency.Romig, Kathleen, Matt Broaddus, and Aviva Aron-Dine. “Financial Challenges Facing Social Security and Medicare Largely Unchanged From Last Year, Except for Improvement in Disability Insurance.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 22, 2019. But Social Security does face a fiscal imbalance that needs to be addressed—without raising taxes on working- and middle-class Americans. At the same time, we must do more to ensure that Social Security provides sufficient economic security for the financially vulnerable and for those still left out of the program, like caregivers. Pete proposes to:

  • Fully protect Social Security for the next generation without cutting anyone’s benefits by ensuring the most fortunate pay their fair share.
  • Increase Social Security benefits to keep vulnerable seniors out of poverty.
  • Value family care work like professional employment—by counting years spent caring for a child, elderly, or disabled dependent toward Social Security benefits.
  • Work with Congress to protect Social Security forever by automatically adjusting tax rates for high earners.
Social Security

Extend retirement security and emergency savings.

Protecting and expanding the promise of Social Security is the key way to promote financial security for America’s retirees. On top of Social Security, many households want to save more for retirement and also for a rainy day. But roughly half of all Americans do not have a workplace retirement plan, often because their employer either doesn’t offer one or doesn’t offer a matching contribution that makes saving attractive.Elkins, Kathleen. “Only half of Americans have access to a 401(k)—here’s how to save for retirement if you don’t.” CNBC. March 18, 2019. Those left out are disproportionately low-income and people of color, worsening the injustice of America’s wealth gaps.Rhee, Nari. “Race and Retirement Insecurity in the United States.” National Institute on Retirement Security. December, 2013. Not only that, but unexpected emergencies place an enormous burden on families who have not been able to save for a rainy day.Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018.” Federal Reserve System. May, 2019. A major barrier to saving for retirement is the fear of not being prepared for a pre-retirement emergency. To address these challenges, Pete will:

  • Institute a Public Option 401(k) so that all workers have the opportunity to supplement their Social Security benefits if they choose with employer contributions. This will enable the typical worker to retire with over $500,000 in the Public Option 401(k). All Public Option 401(k) investments will have low fees so that workers, not financial institutions, make extra money on hard-earned savings.
  • Give workers the choice to enroll in a standard savings plan with a substantial employer match and let them opt out at any time.
  • Help American families weather financial emergencies with a Rainy Day Account within the Public Option 401(k).
Public Option 401k

Every American should have respect, dignity, and a sense of belonging in retirement and health security at home. If you’re with us, text RETIRE to 25859.

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