Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Thursday December 5th, 2013, 5:57pm

Seniors Rally Against Social Security Cuts, Tell Congress Not To Balance The Budget On Their Backs (VIDEO)

With Social Security reform on the table during congressional budget talks to reduce federal spending, about a dozen protesters, most of which were retirees, gathered in downtown Chicago Thursday to call on Congress to reject proposals that “balance the budget on the backs of seniors.”

“Keep your hands off our Social Security,” chanted the protesters who, organized by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) and the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, rallied at Federal Plaza.

The protesters urged Illinois’ congressional delegates to reject any legislative proposal that boosts the retirement age above 67, increases means testing for Medicare premiums or changes cost-of-living-adjustments to a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation formula.

“This is becoming a budgetary issue, but it’s a matter of priorities,” said Jay Lewkowitz, 65, congressional district coordinator for the NCPSSM. “Our country needs to tell Congress that taking care of an aging population and making sure our safety net stays intact is a priority for us.”

A congressional conference committee, lead by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R, WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D, WA), has until December 13 to agree on spending levels before the House likely adjourns for the year.

More forced spending cuts are scheduled to take effect in January and, in an effort to give some federal agencies — particularly the Department of Defense — relief from sequestration and offset staggering budget cuts, GOP leaders have proposed slashing budgets for entitlement programs, like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Is there anyone out there who doesn’t want their Social Security,” asked Lewkowitz, who also serves as executive director for Oakton Place, a senior housing development in Des Plaines. “If you’re a fat cat it's not a big deal, but if you’re making $14,000 a year it is a big deal. That’s many people’s sole source of income and a lot of times they have to choose between food and medicine.”

The protesters delivered more than 5,000 petitions to the office of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D, IL), calling on the senator to keep “Social Security off the negotiation table as (Congress) moves toward the next debt agreement.”

“Already, seniors are struggling to afford out-of-pocket Medicare expenses,” the petitions read. “The chained CPI will make this troubling situation worse by cutting the COLA for both current and future retirees and denying them potentially thousands of dollars in earned benefits over time.”

Here’s more from Thursday’s protest:

In 2013, $821 billion in Social Security benefits will be dispersed to almost 58 million Americans, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. At an average of about $15,000 a year, Social Security provides income for nine out of every 10 individuals 65 and older.

There were 276,258 Illinoisans receiving Social Security benefits in December 2011.

Meanwhile, 95 year-old Beatrice Lumpkin, a Chicago resident who relies on Social Security as the largest contributor to her retirement income, called cuts to the program “a form of slow murder.”

“If they’re going to cut the cost of living by this phony chained CPI, then seniors just can’t afford to live long,” she said while rallying in Chicago on Thursday.

Lumpkin, a retired teacher, said when she retired 31 years ago her Social Security provided only $350 every month, but because of cost-of-living increases, she was saw more than $800 in income every month in 2010 until her husband died and she became eligible to receive his benefits.

“Cost-of-living increases make it so that we can keep up with things like rising food costs,” she said.

The current calculation for Social Security benefits, the CPI-W, or the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, ties Social Security benefits to the consumer prices and the rate of inflation.

“A chained CPI is a real cut to Social Security. It assumes you’re going to substitute and switch your food and other things when prices get too high,” said Ann Marie Cunningham, 76, a retiree who lives in Chicago’s affordable senior housing development, Hollywood House, on the North Side. "So, if you were eating beef, it assumes you’ll be eating chicken. If you’re eating chicken, it assumes you’ll switch to hot dogs. If it were up to them, we’ll soon be eating dog and cat food, but even that’s expensive today.”

By switching to a chained CPI, Social Security benefits would still be tied to the rate of inflation. But instead of just keeping up with the worth of the U.S. dollar, a chained CPI would factor in consumers’ substitutions and choices in spending based on the rising price of goods, and thus the rate at which benefits increase would slow down.

“I live on my Social Security,” said Cunningham, a retired teacher and participant in Thursday’s protest. “Right now, I’m in supportive housing for seniors, but with cuts I’m not sure I’ll even be able to afford that, I might be homeless. By the time I pay all of my bills every month, there’s nothing left.”

“I’d like to know how they expect us to live if they take away our Social Security benefits.”

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