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January 20, 2013 05:30 PM

Debt Ceiling Uncertainty Affects Seniors

Thousands of South Dakota senior citizens could struggle to make ends meet if Congress does not raise America's debt ceiling. 

The United States officially hit its $16.4 trillion legal debt limit last month and now the treasury cannot borrow any new money to help it pay all the country's financial obligations, until the debt ceiling is raised.  Until this happens, financial experts and even U.S. Senator Tim Johnson said this uncertainty puts a big question mark on federal programs like social security and Medicare.

You do not have to look very far to put a face on this potential issue. Frances Wagner, a resident at the Sioux Falls retirement community Touchmark at All Saints, is on both social security and Medicare.  However, you will not hear many complaints from Wagner.

"My middle name is blessing. I always thought that's a positive name, so I'd better be a blessing," Wagner said.

She spends a lot of time reading her favorite books in her apartment.  Beyond a good page-turner, she has also read quite a bit about the debt ceiling.

"I think you'd call me on a fixed income," Wagner.

According to officials with AARP South Dakota, 115,000 seniors are on social security and 42 percent of them rely on social security for half or more of their monthly income. Eighteen percent need it for almost all of their income. 

Though she worries about her peers, Wagner said she would be alright if her social security was diminished or cut.  She credits her late husband Bob, a minister, for having. "the good sense to save."  Still, she would rather not touch her savings.

"I have four children and this was sort of, that was to be my, what was left when I died. That was to be for them. It would mean they'd get less," Wagner said.

President Obama and Congress have about a month to raise the debt ceiling.  Wagner remains optimistic and does not think the story of the debt cliff will close on a negative chapter.

"People have to see what this means.  Surely there are enough people with insight to that it won't happen.  I mean, that we won't go over the cliff," Wagner said.

Cathy McLeer with AARP South Dakota said the organization is keeping an eye on Washington and said the biggest problem with the debt ceiling is uncertainty.

In a statement to KELOLAND News, McLeer said, "No matter what happens, AARP is working to ensure older South Dakotans continue to receive the benefits they've earned."

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  • Sioux Falls, SD
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