Seniors rally for fairness and dignity

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HARTFORD, Conn. - "The fight for Social Security and Medicare is part of a larger fight for justice and fairness," declared Barbara Easterling at a rally at the State Capitol during Seniors Day, sponsored by the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans.

She warned that the annual report just issued by the trustees of Social Security will be used by Mitt Romney and the Republicans to try and push through rapid changes that "put seniors at risk while enriching Wall Street."

The federal budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, passed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, would turn Medicare into a voucher system.  Proposals to privatize Social Security have also resurfaced, which would put seniors at the mercy of the stock market for their survival.

Easterling, national president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, urged support of the Rebuild America Act introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, which includes a provision to end the cap on Social Security taxes on high incomes which would insure the solvency of Social Security indefinitely.

In a release responding to the trustees report, the Center for Social Security and Medicare Advocacy pointed out that  "recent polling has shown that a majority of Americans support lifting the payroll tax cap to ensure Americans contribute at all income levels."

Calling for an all-out mobilization in the upcoming election Easterling said to applause, "They will spend more money in one year than we spend in our entire lives.  Our working days are over, but our fight is stronger than ever."

The rally opened to Elvis Presley's "Rock Around the Clock," as Connecticut ARA president Cal Bunnell pointed to empty rocking chairs arrayed in front of the crowd saying.  "These are empty because we are not sitting in our rockers, we are active and working hard."

Chris Donovan, Speaker of the state House and candidate for Congress, called proposals to cut Social Security and for a  voucher system for Medicare "irresponsible."  He enumerated many measures enacted at the state level to enable seniors to live at home and to cut costs of prescriptions.

Congratulating the Connecticut ARA for its work, John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO exclaimed that the goal is "not just a longer life, but dignity in our lives."

The 100 participants who came from all over the state, visited their state senators and representatives to ask their support on three bills that would enable seniors to continue living at home instead of an institution in their later years.  All are supported by the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.

Raised Bill No. 374 would require the Commission on Aging to conduct a study of existing programs and cost effectiveness of home and community based care for the elderly and Alzheimer's patients.  Substitute Bills No. 142 and 143 would increase eligibility and funding for home care and Alzheimer's respite care.

In recognition of the fact that many workers no longer have defined benefit pension plans, the Connecticut ARA is also supporting a study commission to offer an affordable, voluntary public retirement plan to expand retirement security and boost the local economy.

The day included many exhibits in the Concourse hallway from groups addressing the needs of seniors. Participants signed petitions in support of raising the cap at the table sponsored by the New Haven Peoples Center.

Breakfast, lunch and transportation were provided, helping to make the first annual Seniors Day at the Capitol a great success.

Photo: At Conn. state Capitol, retirees sign petition to end the cap on Social Security taxes on high incomes so that everyone pays their share. Photo by Art Perlo.

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