Aroostook County's Dixie Shaw testifies before Senator Collins’ committee in Washington

Senate Aging Committee Holds Hearing to Examine Poverty Among our Nation’s Seniors

WASHINGTON, DC— The Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which Senator Susan Collins is Ranking Member, today held a hearing titled, “Income Security and the Elderly: Securing Gains made in the War on Poverty.”  Among the hearing’s panelists was Dixie Shaw, who is the Director of Hunger and Relief Services for Catholic Charities in Caribou, Maine. Ms. Shaw testified at the invitation of Senator Collins. 

            Through her position with Catholic Charities in Maine, Dixie runs two food banks supplying 25 food pantries that serve more than 24 thousand people—one-third of the population of Aroostook County, Maine. 

            Senator Collins said, “Poverty remains a troubling reality for millions of older Americans who struggle to find the resources they need to meet the basic necessities of life. Facing poverty is harsh at any age, but especially heartbreaking when it is coupled with isolation and loneliness, as it so often is in rural areas.”  Senator Collins explained that far too many seniors rely only on Social Security for their retirement income—one in four retired Americans nationally and one in three in Maine.

            Senator Collins explained that the average Social Security benefit is less than $16,000 per year, just a few thousand dollars above poverty level.  “It is hard to imagine stretching those dollars far enough to pay the bills,” Senator Collins said.   She added, “In fact, according to data provided to me by the University of Maine Center on Aging, one in ten older adults in Maine skip meals or modify their diet because of financial concerns.”

            In her testimony, Ms. Shaw outlined three significant challenges that low-income seniors face, particularly those who live in rural communities: the high cost of heating oil, which has been especially high this winter due to extraordinarily cold temperatures; food insecurity among the elderly who do not have the resources and ability to access enough food and fresh food; and the lack of transportation options for seniors, which also contributes to too many seniors not having access to needed services. She stressed the importance of federal programs such as programs like LIHEAP and Meals on Wheels.

            Panelists concurred that far too many seniors were reliant on Social Security as their only source of retirement income and that unmarried older women were at greatest risk for living in poverty.

            Senator Collins discussed the important need to provide those not yet at retirement age more opportunities to save, and to save more, to help reduce poverty rate among our nation’s seniors, while also easing the burden on entitlement programs that are already projected to be unstable. To help address this issue, the Senator was recently joined by Senator Nelson, the Committee’s Chairman, in introducing the bipartisan “Retirement Security Act of 2014.” This bill encourages small employers to offer retirement plans, it encourages employees to save more for retirement, and it ensures that low- and middle-income taxpayers are able to claim tax benefits for retirement savings already authorized by law. 

            Senator Collins referred to Ms. Shaw as an extraordinary woman whose perspective is of great value to today’s hearing. “She truly has front-line experience in dealing with the needs of low-income seniors.”

            Additional witnesses at today’s hearing included: Tricia Neuman, Sc.D, Senior Vice President, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; Barbara Bovbjerg, Managing Director, Education Workforce and Income Security, U.S. Government Accountability Office; and Joan Entmacher, Vice President and Director of Family Economic Security, National Women’s Law Center.