Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Thursday, December 15, 2005

CRAIG WARNS WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON AGING ABOUT RAPIDLY AGING NATION

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Larry Craig spoke to the White House Conference on Aging Tuesday night and again today (Wednesday), and warned the approximately 2,000 people gathered about the challenges that are ahead of an America that is quickly growing gray.

“Consider this – today there are over 50,000 centenarians in the United States. By 2050, just 45 years from now, the number of centenarians will be closer to one million. Imagine one million people living in the U.S. who are 100 years and older. It’s stunning, simply phenomenal,” said Craig.

He is the Chairman of the Economic Security Subcommittee of the national conference, and is the immediate past chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. He used the lives of two senior citizens to illustrate what lies ahead.

“Maria Capovilla from Ecuador, at 116 years old, is the oldest woman on the planet, and Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, is the oldest man alive at the age of 114,” Craig said. “He was born August 21, 1891, and served in the U.S. Army at the end of World War I. He is the nation’s oldest veteran,” Craig said. “Don Emiliano and Maria are called super-centenarians because they surpassed the age of 110, and folks, what is phenomenal about this is that in a few years, this will be the norm. This phenomenon of a rapidly aging population presents challenges and opportunities. The challenge, of course is to evaluate our current programs and design them to meet the needs of our upcoming older population.”

Craig praised President Bush for his recognition of these trends and called the President’s efforts to improve Social Security for older generations a “wise decision.”

“We have a demographic time bomb clicking away, and unless we make some changes soon, it will be our children and grandchildren who will face either much higher taxes or lower benefits in Social Security. By allowing some type of personal account within Social Security, we can protect current seniors on Social Security and improve the amount of money our grandchildren will have in their retirement years,” Craig said.

To address the needs of older Americans, Craig noted that in 2000, Congress changed the law to allow people drawing Social Security to work without losing their benefits.

“That change has had an impact – more seniors than ever before are receiving Social Security and they have the freedom to work without being penalized by the federal government,” said Craig. “But I suspect we in Congress may need to more changes to current laws to make government work even better for older Americans.”

Another recent improvement for older Americans that Craig pointed to was the addition of the Medicare prescription drug benefit which will go into full implementation in January. “Last year Congress voted to add a much needed and long-overdue prescription drug benefit to Medicare. It's not a perfect bill, but it will save an average senior citizen enrolled in the program $1,000 a year,” Craig said.

Sen. Craig is the second elected leader from Idaho to speak at the national gathering. On Monday Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne also spoke to the conference. The White House Conference on Aging occurs once a decade to make aging policy recommendations to the President and Congress, and to assist the public and private sectors in promoting dignity, health, independence and economic security of current and future generations of older people. More information about the conference is available on the Internet at http://www.whcoa.gov

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