The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

April 29, 2013

Protecting the Social Security COLA

Rahall Report

By Rep. Nick J. Rahall

— The President recently released his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

The President’s budget is a mixed bag — some very good proposals, such as increased investments for vital infrastructure so necessary to building our economy, and some purely awful, such as the downward adjustment in cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security beneficiaries, also known as a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Certainly, I will oppose any budget that undercuts Social Security and Medicare.

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, as the President proposes in his budget.

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.

In this economy, with high gas and energy prices and increasing food and health care costs, with West Virginia seniors and working families struggling to make ends meet, the importance of protecting and strengthening Social Security, as well as Medicare, should be self-evident.

One in four West Virginians — including retirees, widows, and children — collect 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, but, instead, in this environment of extreme fiscal constraints, it is being chipped away.

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, too many in Washington are proposing to rollback the COLA without a sufficient understanding of what it will mean for seniors in rural communities.

I consider any budget proposal that undercuts Social Security and Medicare, like the one put forward by the President, to be deeply flawed. 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.  These programs are crucial to helping ensure that our seniors, especially those on fixed incomes, have access to quality and affordable health care, and can live and retire in dignity. Certainly, I aim to keep it that way.

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.

(Rahall represents

West Virginia’s 3rd District.)