COLUMBUS, Ohio - Hundreds of Social Security workers, members of the American Federation of Government Employees, and their supporters staged rallies in Ohio and across the nation Oct. 27 to protest huge proposed cuts to Social Security.
In Ohio, AFGE members were joined by members of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans at Social Security offices in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Warren. It was part of a wave of protests held in 140 cities across the nation. Cuts proposed for Social Security by Republicans would close many agency offices and hurt elderly and disabled Americans, the protesters charge.
Alarm bells are ringing because Republicans on the deficit reduction "super-committee" are demanding cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while preserving trillions in tax cuts for the rich. Rally participants say the GOP goal is to force working people to carry the full load of $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. The super-committee is facing a deadline of Nov. 23 to reach agreement on the cutbacks. If they fail, automatic across-the-board cuts will be imposed.
"Social Security is our nation's most successful federal program," said Ohio ARA leader Norm Wernet. "Before Social Security passed, a majority of our nation's seniors lived in poverty. This program changed all that, pulling them out of poverty, and it has not added a single dollar to the deficit. Blaming our nation's retirees for the deficit is dishonest!"
Also participating in the protests were the Strengthen Social Security campaign and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
The cuts would mean many of the Social Security agency's 1,500 field offices would be forced to close, phone calls would go unanswered and benefit applications would become seriously backlogged.
Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE's Council of Field Operations Locals, said, "Cutting Social Security's budget at a time that record baby boomers are seeking benefits is another example of bad Washington politics. These cuts will only punish Americans who count on Social Security and Medicare by adding to backlogs and limiting assistance for our seniors, the disabled and families that have lost a parent or spouse."
On Oct. 26, Progress Ohio released a report titled "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Work," proving that these federal programs have had a major positive impact on the lives of Ohio's elderly and disabled.
Progress Ohio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg told reporters, "We're sending this report to Ohio Senator (Rob) Portman, strongly urging him to oppose any proposed cuts to Social Security."
Rothenberg added, "Portman is on the super-committee that is considering federal budget cuts and he needs to know how important Social Security and Medicare are to the people he represents. Cuts to Social Security or Medicare would be devastating to Ohioans and would cause great harm to our state's economy."
Highlighting the event was disabled steelworker George Korocedes, who said that Social Security had literally saved his life, Korocedes, 59, said that he'd worked 36 years at Stark Ceramics in Canton, Ohio, before having his pension stolen when that company filed for bankruptcy.
"I had two heart attacks after they stole our pension," he said. "I'm now being treated for cancer. The PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.) says I'm due my pension but they won't give it to me. I was going to die. My family was losing everything when I was able to get Social Security Disability, and that's given me a chance to live again. Without it, we'd just have died."
For over five years, Korocedes and other members of his Steelworkers local have continued to fight against the theft of their pensions.
"We will never give up," he said. "Thank God for Social Security, Medicare and the United Steelworkers. It's given us a chance!"
Social Security, according to the study, brings $27.9 billion to Ohio each year, over 13% of the state's total economy. Likewise, Medicare adds another $27.7 billion to Ohio's economy annually. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid add over $64 billion to Ohio, bringing benefits to 1 in 6 of the state's residents. This number represents 18.4% of Ohio's population.
"At the very time our nation is suffering through a deep recession, cutting such a vital program would ravish our state, not to mention causing horrible suffering to our state's most vulnerable citizens," Rothenberg said.
Women and minorities are especially uplifted by Social Security, according to the study.
More about the Social Security study and the news conference is available here.
Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.