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Central MA Labor Group: Your Social Security At Risk

Thursday, December 06, 2012


The Worcester Unemployment Action Group and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO say the impending fiscal cliff could jeopardize your Social Security and Medicaid, affecting 1.1 million residents in the Commonwealth. The local unemployment group says this will not be welcome news for elderly and working-class Central Mass residents.

The state’s labor group says that 1.1 million across the state could be harmed by the stagnation in Congress. These risks would include cuts to Medicaid, which could affect more than 600,000 children and seniors.

“Wherever there are people retired, living on Social Security they’re going to be hurt," said Christopher Horton, an activist with the Worcester Unemployment Action Group (WUAG). "If they’re proposing to cut it by raising the retirement age, there are two things people need to think about."

In Central Mass

When asked whether these predictions would jeopardize Social Security for people in the area, Horton said yes. More than 1.5 million people in the Commonwealth who receive their healthcare coverage from Medicaid.  Children and seniors account for over 600,000 of that number, and their care could be affected.

“In this economy, which is showing no signs of getting fundamentally better, people 65 and over can’t find work. Many people are taking Social Security early because they can’t find work,” Horton said. “If you increase the retirement age, you are taking one more of the things people are using to survive in this crisis.”

He added that, as someone who had planned to work into his 70s, the importance of social services like Medicaid and Social Security cannot be overstated.

“There are a lot of older people in Worcester, and we’re all under the gun,” he said, adding that Social Security must not be cut.

“That’s a line that must not be cut. Anyone considering that move would be stepping outside the tradition of the Democratic Party for 65 years.”

A Benefit for the Rich

Horton said that another component of the threat of Social Security cuts is the increase in life expectancy. This increase has been seen as a reason to make cuts to the program, however, Horton said that this projected increase may not happen for everyone.

“Another thing to look at is, as life expectancy increases, this is threating the benefits people get from Social Security,” he said. “There is clear evidence, the stats do show regular working people are going to see a declining life expectancy. So, if you’re raising the age of retirement because of projected longevity, it’s going mainly to the rich.”

When asked whether he thought Worcester’s population would be hard hit by this prediction, Horton said that the numbers speak for themselves.

Imagined Need

Horton said that although the fiscal cliff is putting these social services in jeopardy, the problem could be fixed by rethinking priorities.

“If they’re willing to increase the taxes on the wealthy, putting people to work… There’s a huge backlog of public projects and public needs to be met,” he said, adding that government should cut spending on war and international bases. “There is no need to take this from the social safety network.”

He instead said to focus on other programs now on the chopping block.

“If you look at the other things on the block now, food stamps, unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, healthcare and support, jobs-creating programs – these are things that are urgently needed,” he said. “And if Congress persists in its attitude that these are things that can be trades against Social Security, they’re missing the bigger picture. There are no needs to cut any of the people’s services.”

State Labor Group Reports

On a state-wide scale, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, an organization created by workers to promote the interests of workers in the Commonwealth, has crunched the numbers. Their recent report shows that the fiscal cliff presents a large potential risk for over a million across the state.

“This is a critical time, and we need our elected officials to step up and do right by the hard working men and women of Massachusetts,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman.

“Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are crucial benefits not only to more than a million people of our state, but also to our economy. These must be protected from deep and unnecessary cuts which are harmful to working families and our entire economy.”

The labor organization put focus on the slow actions of members of Congress, some of which have suggested cuts to benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The AFL-CIO sad that on top of this issue, if tax cuts are extended for the top two percent of earners making morethan $250,000 a year, those in Massachusetts would receive an average of $31,570 in tax cuts, while the rest of the residents would receive an average of $1,490.

“We need to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits and other important programs that support our working families,” said Richard Rogers, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

“Retirees, people with disabilities and children shouldn’t have to suffer because some in Congress want to give more tax breaks to the richest two percent.”

Taking Responsibility

While the AFL-CIO is calling on Congress to act, Horton of WUAG said that individuals need to speak up.

“We are urging people to call their representatives and offices. That will make the difference,” he said.

Horton is not so confident that politicians are going to pull through with their promises to keep these programs in place.

“Worcester Unemployment Action Group received a personal promise from President Obama, Senator Kerry, and Rep. McGovern that they won’t vote for any cuts in unemployment insurance. Don’t know what they’re saying about Social Security or what kind of deal they’re going to strike,” he said. “I don’t know if they will keep those promises. They’re going to be under intense pressure. They need to reach across the aisle – between Congress and the American people – to find a compromise.” 


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