January 20, 1999

Molly Lozoff of Miami, Fla., is a retired real estate broker. When she was 35, her husband suffered an incapacitating stroke that left him unable to speak. It was then this mother of four discovered that Social Security was there to provide disability benefits for her and for her children. Molly is now 77, and once again, she has been able to turn to Social Security for support.

Molly's story reminds us that Social Security is not just a retirement program. Many of us don't realize that Social Security protects us in the event that a spouse or parent becomes disabled.

Her story also reminds us of another critical issue: just how important Social Security is for women. Most women earn less than men, and many do not receive private pensions. Women are more likely than men to work part time, to spend some time out of the labor force and to live alone in their retirement years. And, on average, women live longer than men.

For these reasons, women make up more than half of all the elderly recipients of Social Security -- 72 percent of those over the age of 85. For many women, Social Security is literally all that stands between them and poverty.

This week, in his State of the Union address, the President offered a bold framework to help save Social Security. He proposed committing 60 percent of the budget surplus to Social Security and investing a small portion in the private sector in order to earn a higher return for all of us.

Social Security has often been called the "third rail of politics" -- the issue that every politician is afraid to touch. I am proud that my husband has stepped up to the plate and demanded an end to this head-in-the-sand approach. And I am pleased that he made the point Tuesday night of reminding our lawmakers that they must also work together to reduce poverty among elderly women.

As all of us who are aging know, health-care security can be just as important as retirement security, which is why the President also announced a plan to strengthen Medicare.

This week's State of the Union address was my husband's seventh and the last of the 20th century. As such, it offered him a unique opportunity not only to assess where we stand as a nation but also to chart a strong and sure course for the next generation.

My husband took office at a time when America's economy was troubled, the deficit was high, and citizens feared for their safety. Today, we can all feel pride in our country and confidence in our future.

We are in the midst of the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history. For the first time in three decades, the budget is balanced. Violent crime is dropping, and our environment is the cleanest it's been in a quarter century.

Now, though, is not the time to be complacent.

To strengthen our families for the 21st century, saving Social Security will be our first priority. But there are many other challenges as well.

For six years, this President has kept his eyes on the goal of helping America's families who every day do their best to balance the demands of work and home. To further that goal, this week, he called on Congress to increase the minimum wage and to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to benefit 10 million Americans who work for smaller companies.

More than ever, men and women feel pressed to meet their obligations as workers and their responsibilities as parents. So, the President also laid out a bold agenda to improve child care, expand after-school programs, and provide a new tax credit for stay-at-home parents. He announced a plan to make America's schools the best in the world. He proposed the extension of health insurance to millions who can't afford it. And he urged passage of the Patient's Bill of Rights and action to protect our children from handgun violence and the dangers of tobacco.

When Molly Lozoff visited the White House last October for a roundtable discussion on women and pensions, she said, "I am so proud we have a President who feels a tug on his heart for our plight -- the plight of the elderly." This President is determined that America begin its journey into the next century with every American family solidly on board.