Change would result in immediate benefit cuts for seniors
St. Louis – Huddled beneath umbrellas in an unseasonably cool July rain and holding colorful paper chains, more than 50 seniors and other activists formed a human chain in front of the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis July 2 to protest cuts in Social Security and other federal benefits that a proposed “chained" CPI would bring.
The rally, called the Human Chain Against the Chained CPI was held in conjunction with similar events sponsored by the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) across the country in a National Day of Action.
CPI stands for the consumer price index, a formula that looks at how prices of things like food and other necessities change over time. It's used to make cost-of-living, or COLA, adjustments in programs such as Social Security, veterans’ benefits and food stamps.
The chained CPI is a twist on that. It measures living costs differently by assuming that when prices for one thing go up, people will settle for cheaper substitutes (If beef prices go up, for example, they'll buy more chicken.)
Cost-of-living adjustments would be lower with the chained CPI and people on programs such as Social Security would suffer.
Despite that, many in Congress are considering cutting seniors’ Social Security benefits by tying the COLA to the chained CPI.
The AARP estimates the Chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities by $146 billion over the next 10 years.
According to the AFL-CIO, under chained CPI, someone retiring at age 65 would lose nearly $5,000 in Social Security benefits by age 75. By age 85, that person would lose almost $14,000. If he or she lived until 95, the loss would be more than $28,000.
“The proposal to base Social Security benefits on a so-called Chained CPI would result in serious cumulative benefit cuts for all recipients,” said Missouri ARA President Dave Meinell. “What we really need is a more realistic cost-of-living.”
IGNORES HEALTH CARE COSTS
One of the biggest problems with the chained CPI is it ignores health care costs, which consume a large portion of seniors’ income.
The chained CPI assumes that a lower COLA is acceptable because consumers will buy a cheaper product when one is available.
But a person needing triple-bypass surgery can’t simply opt for a double-bypass because it’s cheaper.
The chained CPI ignores this reality and instead tries to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.
‘WE CANNOT DO THIS TO PEOPLE’
“The chained CPI would do serious and lasting harm to seniors in this nation by asking them to reduce their income when their basic needs for health care and the cost of care are rising at unprecedented rates,” said the Rev. Mary Gene Bottler of Second Presbyterian Church, representing Metropolitan Clergy United.
“The idea that those who are barely able to eke out a living are somehow the cause of the financial insecurity of this nation and therefore must bear the greatest burden of recovery and growth is patently untrue.”
Pat McHugh, a retired St. Louis Public Schools teacher, put the problem in perspective.
“If I did not have a tenant downstairs, I would be on the street,” McHugh, 78, said. “And I have a so-called pension. I cannot imagine having to relying on just Social Security. One year, my out of pocket medical was $12,000, that’s with insurance. We cannot do this to people.”
“Sometimes we try to make this complicated and it really isn’t,” said Steve Englehardt, a spokesman for Congressman William Lacy Clay, who has a 100 percent voting record on senior issues. Clay joined other Congressmen recently in signing a letter to President Barack Obama insisting that cuts to Social Security such as the chained CPI not be part of any budget negotiations.
“This is about three things,” Englehardt said. “This is about fairness. This is about fiscal responsibility. This is about trust.
“There is a deficit and debt in this country and we do need to be responsible about how we begin to close those two numbers. But it’s wrong and it’s unfair to try to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable and that’s what chained CPI does. It’s wrong.”
In Missouri alone, Englehardt said a third of seniors rely on Social Security for up to 90 percent of their income.
Barbara Woodruff, a retired businessperson and activist, is one of those seniors.
“I live from paycheck to paycheck,” Woodruff said. “I’m very fortunate in that I was able to move into a Cardinal Ritter facility that is for low-income seniors because quite frankly without that I’d be living in a box on the river.”
THREE LEGS OF RETIREMENT STOOL
“This rally is about ensuring dignity for our senior citizens, people who are on Social Security,” Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO said. “You remember when corporate America told us you can’t retire because you have to have three legs to your retirement stool? One was, you have to have a pension and we didn’t have one, until organized labor came along and got us one. They told us we had to have savings, and we didn’t have any, until organized labor came along and helped us get a savings account, then we had some money. Then they said Social Security was the third leg and they’re trying to take that away. They want this country on your back, and that’s not right.”
Rally honored activist Kerker
The July 2 Human Chain Against the Chained CPI Rally was dedicated to the memory of the late Sherwood Kerker, former editor of the Labor Tribune and a social justice activist.
Kerker’s family was there and his son-in-law, Joseph Patrico, spoke to the crowd.
“Sherwood was one of those rare individuals,” Patrico said. “He knew his purpose. He knew it was his responsibility to fight the good fight.
“You’re not fair weather activists,” Patrico told the crowd amid a steady downpour. “You’re one of his; you’re one of ours.
“He taught my kids, and I think you’re teaching your kids, how important this is, how important this fight is, how important it is that we stay together, that we keep it going .... When it’s time to take the fight to the street, he took the fight to the street every time for the sake of this community.”