Residents of the 8th congressional district are terrified that their Social Security and Medicare benefits are going to be cut, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8) said after an hourlong meet and greet with constituents in Elgin this weekend.
“They’re barely making ends meet,” Duckworth told Progress Illinois at her third Congress at Your Corner event, held at the Gail Borden Library. “Whatever we do to balance our nation’s budget, it cannot be on the backs of these people.”
Dozens of people lined up to say hello and take their picture with Duckworth, while others shared their personal struggles and concerns with the congresswoman.
Jim Ceithaml, who has lived in Elgin for more than four decades, said his wife recently developed cancer and they depend on Medicare to help cover medical expenses.
“We’re sitting here looking at four major surgeries for cancer. We’ve just gotten through the fourth one ... and we have tens of thousands of dollars worth of bills that are covered by Medicare,” Ceithaml said after meeting the congresswoman. “We would have lost our house three times over already if there had not been the present level of Medicare, and to make it a lower level is just unconscionable.”
President Barack Obama’s controversial budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 released last week looks to cut $400 billion from health care programs such as Medicare over a 10-year period and make changes to Social Security through the "chained CPI" inflation formula.
Last month, the Republican-controlled House approved its 2014 budget, which was crafted by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI-1).
Duckworth said she voted ‘no’ for the Republican plan, because it would reopen the Medicare drug "doughnut hole," requiring seniors to pay a higher price for prescription medications, along with other detrimental cuts to the program and to Social Security.
The Senate voted the Ryan budget plan down in their chamber.
“Right now, people who are less well off than I am and my wife is, who are our age and are dependent on Social Security and Medicare, are truly panicked,” Ceithaml said. “I mean these people are just ... living in fear every day, and it’s terrible. It is a terrible thing to see.”
Ceithaml said the congresswoman told him she would not support any cuts to either program.
“Never in my travels have I ever had someone come up to me and say, ‘Please get rid of Social Security. I get too much money. Please get rid of Medicare. I have too much health care,’” Duckworth told Progress Illinois. “People are scared and desperate, and so whatever we do to balance our budget, we have to cut where we need to cut.”
She suggested ending tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry.
“Why are we spending money on that when we have people like this who are barely making ends meet,” she asked.
The other key concern among 8th congressional district constituents who came to meet Duckworth is the need for more small business and local entrepreneurial assistance.
“One gentleman wanted to do a gluten free, organic bakery, and he’s been selling at some of the local farmers markets, but he’s looking for capital so he can expand,” Duckworth said. “Some of the local grocery stores are interested, but he doesn’t know (where) to go next.”
She said her office would work with centers for economic development and small businesses in order to help the various entrepreneurs who spoke with her.
Another Elgin resident, Dana Knight, said she’s concerned that there’s even talk about changing Social Security's cost of living adjustments (COLA) to the “chained CPI” inflation formula.
“That’s still real money to people that need it that are on [a] fixed income or a budget,” she said after having the chance to speak with Duckworth.
Knight said Medicare should be made more efficient and tax loopholes closed for big companies that shift their profits to offshore tax havens.
“I think the people who are very wealthy and corporations that are not paying their fair share really need to step up, because they’re making their money on people in the country, so they should be supporting the country and paying their fair share, not sending money to the Cayman Islands or dodging their responsibilities,” she said.
Knight stressed to Duckworth that people need their Social Security benefits because they’ve paid into the program for their whole careers.
“I’m going to fight as hard as I can for Medicare and Social Security,” Duckworth responded.