National bus tour demands Congress protect benefits for workers, veterans


DAVE MEINELL (far right), president emeritus of the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans, was among a group of St. Louis activists who welcomed the “Back Off Our Benefits” national bus tour in St. Louis. – Missouri ARA photo

A “Back Off Our Benefits” national bus tour is demanding congressional protection of hard-earned benefits for workers and veterans.

The cross-country tour stopped last week for a press conference at Kiener Plaza Park in downtown St. Louis on its way from California to Washington, D.C.

“Pay attention to our needs” was the way disabled Illinois activist Keith Bell summed up the tour’s message to Congress.

Several speakers told of their experiences and frustrations in dealing with inadequate or threatened benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans programs.

They singled out two targets: Missouri Congressman Jason Smith (R-Salem) and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Both are right-wing Republicans who are advocating benefit cuts and delaying the settlement of a congressional budget that would avoid a government default.

“We’re calling on extreme members of the Republican House majority, including Rep. Smith, to sign a promise (that) they must protect the essential benefits Americans rely on – and stop playing political games with the default crisis,” said tour organizer and spokeswoman Laura Packard.

“House Republicans, including Representative Smith, are risking a major global economic crisis and major personal crises for millions of Americans across the country who depend on these benefits,” Packard said. “We’re here to ask Representative Smith a final time to promise his constituents that he’ll back off our hard-earned benefits.”

Smith’s 8th Congressional District covers southern and southeastern Missouri.

The “Back Off Our Benefits” bus tour, organized by Courage for America, planned to visit 12 other congressional districts along its path to Washington.

KEITH BELL, a disabled Illinois activist, spoke at a press conference held in St. Louis by the “Back Off Our Benefits” national bus tour, which is demanding Congress protect worker and veteran benefits. – Missouri ARA photo

The tour began in McCarthy’s California district and will conclude on April 17 at the Washington Capitol to mark his 100th day as House speaker.

“Courage for America will hold a press conference (at the Capitol) and deliver a petition to Speaker McCarthy, demanding he make this promise and stop playing political games with the default crisis,” a press release said.

Courage for America is comprised of “proud Americans speaking out against an extreme MAGA agenda that puts money and power over the rights and freedoms of the American people,” the release said.
“The campaign is amplifying the voices of Americans in communities across the country – veterans, educators, faith leaders, and more – to demand the People’s House works for the people.”

“Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and veterans benefits are not just programs – they’re the very embodiment of our nation’s commitment to caring for its people,” said Army veteran Moises Montalvo.

“They represent the values that I fought for and that we fight for as soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors: Compassion, solidarity and a genuine concern for the well-being of other citizens,” Montalvo said.

“Social Security Disability Insurance was – and continues to be here – not only for myself, but for over 26,000 constituents” in Smith’s congressional district, said Navy veteran Jessica Motsinger.

The number of veterans in Smith’s district make up 13 percent of all Missouri veterans, “and yet Representative Smith is looking to cut their veterans benefits,” she said. “We’re asking Representative McCarthy and Representative Smith to honor their oath.”

“Why is anyone ever denied the basic human right of quality medical care?” asked Maria Chassels, who lives in Smith’s district.

“The scariest question of all: Why are certain members of Congress trying to take away the benefits that we do have?” Chassels said. “We have to protect – and expand – our benefits.”

“It is quite tragic that our leaders continue to put politics over people – showing their disdain for the people who elected them,” said East St. Louis activist Stephanie Taylor.

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