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Seniors turn out for town hall about sequester cuts affecting Social Security

Tensions get high when one political party is singled out by speaker
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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As news agencies continue to examine the impacts of the federal “sequester,” more than 80 Roseville seniors turned out to a special town hall meeting March 12 to learn about how the spending cuts and their proposed fixes could affect social security and Medicare.

Held at the Maidu Center, the town hall was sponsored by California Alliance for Retired Americans, Placer People of Faith Together and the Placer chapter of United Domestic Workers.

The meeting was kicked off by William Reed, a member of the Placer’s chapter of UDW. Glancing out at a packed room of onlookers, Reed said, “We hope you’ll open your hearts and minds to how important this is, and help get the word out about the challenges that are happening.”

Reed turned the floor over to Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University. Kingson said that, at the moment, the most direct impact on elderly citizens from the new across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as the sequester, is that funding for senior centers across the U.S. is being cut, as are staffing levels at local Social Security offices. However, Kingson also believes the political pressure being generated in Washington, D.C., by the sequester could be used as leverage against Social Security and Medicare by staunch opponents of the programs.

“This is America’s system, and so it’s not a ‘red state’ or ‘blue state’ issue,” Kingson told the crowd. “Americans have built this up and want to keep it for their children and grandchildren … Social Security is a hugely popular program, so politicians know they can’t pull it apart at once, so now they’ll be trying to break it piece by piece through a so-called ‘grand bargain’ with the president.”

Kingson’s position is that, despite the fact polling indicates 75 percent of Americans do not want Social Security cut, specific factions within the Republican party are still pushing for full privatization of retirement plans — amounting to an “an alliance with Wall Street.” As proof, Kingson pointed to a failed 2005 effort by President George W. Bush to partly privatize Social Security, which was backed by prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan.

According to Kingson, the pressure of the federal debt debates and the new sequester is already causing Obama to be open to discussions with Republicans about lowering cost-of-living increases in Social Security against inflation. The professor believes more potential deals to scale back Social Security and Medicare could be in the works as debt-ceiling battles between the White House and Congress heat up.

A large majority of the seniors at the town hall meeting showed concern about Kingson’s presentation. However, at least one member of the audience strongly disagreed, loudly proclaiming that Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme” and that Kingson had “no right to mislead seniors” about the program’s legitimacy and solvency.

When the discussion shifted to a possible dismantling of Medicare, Roseville resident Diana Madoshi stood up and shared some of her personal story: She read aloud a letter from a major medical insurance provider, declining her for coverage because she had a pre-existing medical condition.

“I sold my house and lost all of that,” Madoshi said. “I have a medical condition that is systemic, and can cause other medical issues if not properly treated. If it wasn’t for Medicare, I don’t know where I would be today. This is about real people.”