In 1981, Governor Hugh Carey of New York told a House Ways and Means Committee that the best way to cut the federal budget deficit was to trim Social security. Lou Glasse, the director of New York's State Office for the Aging, was upset when she heard what her boss had done. Explaining her concern to the Governor's staff, Glasse asked that an interagency task force study the impact of a Social security benefit cut on the state and its citizens. Using staff from her own and the other 14 agencies involved, the task force found that New Yorkers could lose $7 billion over a four-year period if benefits were slashed, and that the state would need to spend as much as $18 million in additional welfare payments to elders and people with disabilities. Local governments would also be affected.
When Governor Carey received this report, he was so impressed with the findings that he reversed his position and became not only a strong defender of Social Security but also a staunch opponent of any cutbacks in benefits. It was another victory for Glasse, an advocate who combines passionate idealism with political skills. It's not enough just to feel strongly about something; to make a difference you have to know how to maneuver through the system. Lou Glasse can do both.
Glasse is still fighting on the battlefield of Social Security 23 years after Carey's congressional testimony. Many advocates in aging know her as president emeritus of the Older Women's League, Washington, D.C. Also, Glasse, the wife of a Presbyterian minister, is an elder at First Presbyterian Church, Poughkeepsie, N.Y, and served as a commissioner to the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. last summer, where she put together a resolution that passed-calling on the church to reaffirm and update its 1986 support for Social Security and Medicare and to oppose efforts to alter these programs. She is now speaking out against proposals to allow workers to divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal investment accounts.
Does the battle seem tedious after all these years? "No," she says, "but I am frustrated when I hear misinformation that is critical of Social Security. Being tired is not an issue. It is urgent for the security and well-being of American families that this program continue. At age 77-the mother of two sons and grandmother of four-Glasse added, "I get recharged and I get angry when I hear people making attacks on Social security." (For more information, visit the website at www.pcusa.org/health/usa/advocacylindex.htm.)
Glasse is especially critical of President Bush's plan to allow workers to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into the stock market through individual accounts. Workers whose investments in these accounts fail will suffer loss of retirement income for themselves and their spouses. What would happen to the family of a young worker who dies or is disabled before his or her investments have matured, she asks? Or could a low-income, divorced, older woman depend on her ex-husband to share his individual account with her?
JUSTICE AND FAITH
Glasse could be doing lots of other things instead of worrying about Social security. She has long wished to visit the Grand Canyon, as part of a visit to her grandchildren and other relatives. But all big trips are on hold as long as she thinks the Social Security battle will be raging. Her political stands, she says, are an organic growth from her positions on social justice and her religious faith. She finds her inspiration in the Scriptures, and in the legacy of her parents. Glasse cites this passage: "God has told you what is good . . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6: 7-8). The greatest gifts she says she has received are "the love and guidance of my parents and the teachings of my church."
Both of Glasse's parents "were committed Christians who witnessed, in small and large ways, Jesus' message of love and 'brotherhood of man. …