Protesters: Protect S.S.

WARREN – A group of Mahoning Valley residents chained themselves together outside the Social Security Administration office, then marched three blocks to the downtown federal office building to protest slowed increases in Social Security benefits because of the chained Consumer Price Index.

Chained CPI curtails increases in Social Security benefits because the CPI reflects changes in the way consumers replace some items they buy based on increasing costs. It indexes spending and taxes – including Social Security benefits – to the rate of inflation.

“We believe the chained CPI is an actual cut to Social Security,” said Tammy Thomas Miles, a lead organizer with Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. “It, over time, will lower the amount of money those getting Social Security will receive.

“We believe there is a better way to calculate the cost of living by using a system that would take into account the cost of health care services for seniors and people with disability.”

Gloria Hobbs, a Youngstown resident, said she qualifies for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

“Without these programs, I would be homeless and would not be able to eat,” Hobbs said. “We are trying to tell the Legislature to not chain us to the chained CPI, and allow the cost-of-living index to increase as it has been doing over the years.”

Hattie Wilkins, also with the MVOC, agrees that seniors and people with disabilities should not have to decide whether to eat or get medical treatments.

“These are God-given rights,” she said. “I want the same thing that our representatives have in health care coverages.”

Juanita James, a Youngstown resident, said the government cannot just keep cutting benefits for the elderly.

“Over a period of time you’re going to cut back one bag of groceries at a time,” James said. “At what point, you have to say don’t.”

Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Niles, said she has been working in Columbus to expand Medicaid in Ohio.

“I want to thank Gov. Kasich for his line item veto of language in the state budget that would have prohibited the state of Ohio from accepting any additional Medicaid money,” she said.

“Having access to affordable health care is important, especially for those who are falling through the eligibility cracks, including the working poor and childless adults,” Cafaro said. “If we are able to extend coverage through Medicaid, we can deliver help to these other categories.”

While chained CPI would have detrimental effect on those people who are on fixed incomes, Cafaro said she understands why the Obama administration is supporting the program. It is part of an effort to reduce the growth of the budget deficit.

Members of MVOC support efforts to expand the use of Medicaid eligibility in Ohio, Miles said.

“Expanding Medicaid will help to cover health care costs because they have assistance with their co-pays and their prescription drug costs,” Miles said. “It is a shame that some seniors have to choose between buying foods and purchasing medicine.

“We believe it would be a shame for our elected state representatives to turn away $17 billion that could create jobs in our community because they do not want to expand Medicaid benefits,” she said.

The MVOC members were out on Tuesday as part of a national day of action that was connected with the Alliance of Retired Americans.

rsmith@tribtoday.com