FRANKFORT, Ky.(Greg Stotelmyer) – Friday was the 80th birthday of Social Security and every presidential candidate has ideas for changing the system – whether that means strengthening it or scrapping it. Nearly 1 million Kentuckians receive Social Security benefits. Marilyn Watkins, policy director of he Economic Opportunity Institute, says while the importance of Social Security to seniors is most often in the spotlight, the program also has helped stabilize the economy overall. “Even in times when the economy collapses, Social Security income continues to come in,” she points out. “It helps not only families survive, but it helps local businesses stay strong. It’s amazingly important in smaller communities.” In Kentucky, 54 percent of the beneficiaries are retirees, but there are also spouses, widows, widowers, children and people with disabilities receiving Social Security. Watkins once was part of those statistics, when her husband passed away, leaving her with two sons, ages nine and 11. “Within three weeks, we had our first benefit checks coming in,” she relates. “Every month until my younger son turned 18, Social Security income continued to come into our household. It just made a huge difference. It just helped us weather that storm.” Until the 1980s, survivor benefits continued for children until they finished college. Now, they end when a child turns 18 and graduates from high school. Watkins would like to see the college benefit reinstated. She predicts candidates’ views on the future of Social Security will be critical in the next election. Another potential change is to calculate benefits by averaging fewer years of a worker’s income. Watkins says that would benefit those who are unemployed for a time, or must take time off for family caregiving – and those zero-income years affect their benefits later in life. “Changing that from 35 years to 30 years would just provide that adjustment that allows for family care, for those economic downturns when people are out of the workforce for no fault of their own,” she explains. On average, Kentucky retirees receive nearly $1,200 dollars a month from Social Security.