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Stories of the Elderly Remind Us of the Pain of Cutting Social Security Payments

Altering the formula for Social Security payouts is not innocuous, it will have grave human costs.
 
 
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When I was a young organizer for Iowa Citizen Action Network, we were doing a lot of work on utility rate hikes. I met an elderly woman, maybe late 70s, who was living on her Social Security check. As utility prices went through the roof, her cost of living increase in that check wasn't coming anywhere close to covering the costs she had. She was extremely worried, because as frugal as she was she couldn't figure out how to keep her heat on, pay her rent, and buy a few meager groceries. She thought the utilities might end up shutting her heat off. I suggested a social services agency she could go to, and that she might check with neighborhood churches to see if they had funds that could help. And I promised that I would do everything I could to fight for her. I pushed hard on the local utility companies to try and shame them away from turning the heat off the dead of an Iowa winter, which didn't work very well because the utility companies had no shame. And my organization pushed in the legislature to get a bill passed that would prohibit utility shutoffs in the wintertime, which didn't pass the first year but did the second year we worked on it. But it didn't pass in time to save the woman I met. Reading the Cedar Rapids Gazette one day that winter, I saw that the woman I met had been found dead in her apartment of hypothermia after the utility company had turned off her heat.

When we got the bill passed in the next session, I thought of her. I was proud that no one would die in the coming years in Iowa because of having their heat turned off, but I was also mourning that we were too late to save her. And I vowed to keep my promise to her as long as I lived, that I would keep fighting for her and people like her.

It’s 30 years later, but I still have promises to keep, as do all Democrats who claim to be on the side of the middle class and poor.  As Dean Baker makes clear, if the President’s apparent offer of changing the CPI formula is part of the budget deal, it will be a very hard blow for generations to come for seniors who will be unlikely to have decent pensions or much in the way of savings to cushion the blow of these cuts. And with prices for necessities (utility prices, gas, groceries, health care) tending to go up more than the inflation rate in general, this is the absolute worst kind of cut to be making.

I have been having some interesting conversations with Democrats over the last 24 hours about what being a loyal Democrat means with the President seeming likely to go forward with this deal. The point has been made that the Republicans are far worse than Obama on these issues, as all they want to do is to gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs for the poor, and that is definitely true. The fact that the President is, according to the Washington Post, proposing to exclude SSI disability payments and provide a bump-up in benefits for those 85 and older is a good thing and much appreciated. People have said to me that the President’s heart is in the right place, and that he is working hard to get the best deal he thinks he can get, which may well be true- I gave up judging politicians’ motives long ago. And I have been told I should be a loyal Democrat, that the President is our party’s leader, and we should be unified in supporting him.

 
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