As Social Security approaches its 75th anniversary on Saturday, the program is playing an especially vital role in reducing poverty across America during the worst economic crisis since the Great Recession.
If benefits were to be significantly cut, 19.8 million more Americans would be thrust in poverty, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In addition to supporting the elderly, Social Security is currently keeping more than 1 million children and more than 5 million adults below the age of 65 above the poverty line.
Cuts to Social Security would be especially devastating for older women, the report shows. While 11.9 percent of women over the age of 65 are currently below the poverty line, nearly half of them would be poor if they no longer received benefits.
Veronica Daniels, 62, of Houston, Texas, says a reduction in her Social Security benefits would be calamitous. An engineer with over 37 years of experience, Daniels lost her job in 2007 and has not been able to find steady work since. After blowing through most of her savings on a major surgery and dental emergency without the help of health insurance, she was forced to start collecting Social Security early to stay afloat.
"I wanted to wait until I was 66 to start collecting it, because I will lose about 25% of my benefits by doing it this way, but I had no choice," Daniels told HuffPost. "If the government cut my benefits right now, it would be horrible for me. I'm making just enough to cover basic expenses and save about a hundred dollars or so a month for medical emergencies. I can't really afford to be squeezed."
Daniels said she lost her house to foreclosure in 2009, and she now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston with no sofa and only a small folding table to eat on. She worries that once the prices of food and housing and utilities go up, she will no longer be able to pay her modest rent.
"I'm hoping to live until my 80s, but it's gonna be really tough to make ends meet by myself," she said. "Social Security will cover the basics, but what if something happens and I need more? Will I be homeless? I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping to hell I don't get seriously sick."
Daniels and millions other Americans who depend on Social Security are watching closely as a bipartisan commission set up by President Obama mulls over the idea of cutting funds to the program to reduce the deficit. HuffPost's Ryan Grim reported that nearly 85 percent of American adults polled oppose cuts to Social Security, according to a recent survey conducted by GfK Roper, and 72% "strongly oppose" the idea.
Daniels belongs firmly in the latter category.
"I get so damn disgusted," she told HuffPost. "I don't understand how they can even think about cutting the benefits they've promised you and you've planned on your whole life. They want to treat us as less than humans."