By Nick Rahall
I am and always have been an ardent defender of Social Security and Medicare, fighting against legislation that would jeopardize the health and retirement benefits of seniors.
Most recently, I have written to the President of the United States and co-sponsored legislation in opposition to proposals that would reduce the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) by substituting a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in calculating benefits. As well, I have written to the president in opposition to increasing the eligibility age for Medicare.
Seniors and workers, many on fixed incomes, have a moral claim on the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of paying into Social Security and Medicare; those obligations must be honored.
One in four West Virginians — including retirees, widows and children — collects Social Security benefits, receiving an average $13,000 in annual payments. It is a small figure compared to the massive salaries you hear about on Wall Street, but it is critical to keeping working families out of poverty, and it is vital to ensuring our nation’s and state’s seniors live and retire in dignity after a lifetime of labor.
The delivery of the monthly Social Security check is a trusted and reliable constant that ought to be embraced and strengthened. Retirement and disability insurance benefits should be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and not subject to the whims of the financial markets.
Social Security has never missed a payment; every dollar of earned benefits has been paid on time, in full.
Not surprisingly, there are some members in Congress who are fanatical about slashing spending, proposing to privatize the Social Security program and roll back the annual COLA without regard to its effects on working, middle-class families and the economy.
In recent years, unwise spending cuts have siphoned funds away from Social Security that are necessary to properly administer the program. These cuts have curtailed the ability of the Social Security Administration to hire the personnel needed to process claims and get monthly benefits to recipients. These cuts have resulted in fewer staff to answer phones and the closure of local Social Security offices.
Seniors have been denied their annual Social Security COLA in two of the last four years because of a faulty inflation formula that does not accurately measure seniors’ real costs related to food, energy, and health care.
And, now, when we should be trying to fix the formula, as I have proposed, to ensure a fairer COLA for seniors, Social Security is threatened by proposals to further chip away at seniors’ benefits in order to shift funds to other parts of the federal budget.
While reforms are necessary to ensure their long-term solvency, Social Security and Medicare have their own set of challenges and they ought to be dealt with separately from the overall budget, and not used as piggy banks to offset some fanciful grand bargain.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the need for a secure retirement for seniors and their families. Seventy-eight years later, we can look back and appreciate the importance of President Roosevelt’s vision, which launched the safety net that helps millions of American seniors, children and widows live with security and dignity.
Throughout my years serving the people of southern West Virginia, I have consistently voted to protect Social Security and Medicare, and I will continue to do so.
— U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall,
D-W.Va., represents West
Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.