Horns honked in support of over 100 federal employees and community leaders gathered the evening of July 25 outside of the Social Security Administration’s Woodlawn headquarters in protest. The message was heard loudly, and clearly read on signs directed at Congress: “Hands off Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid!”

The protest was organized by the Coalition to Strengthen Social Security, which works in conjunction with other national and local organizations such as major labor and teachers unions. The Coalition pulled together concerned citizens from near and far as plans to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security threaten to further cripple the disabled and leave America’s senior citizens in the cold.

“These programs literally mean the difference between life and death for those who benefit from them,” said civic activist and protest coordinator, Grandmother Edna.

While it may seem like an exaggeration, according to the Social Security Administration, for the 40 percent of seniors barely living above the poverty line, Social

Security benefits make up roughly 82 percent of yearly income.

Members of both the Democratic and Republican parties are eyeing the funds that have kept the Social Security system running since its inception in 1935. If the federal government continues to delay in paying back money it’s borrowed from the Social Security fund—a potential fallout of the debt ceiling debate in Washington—, cuts its operating budget or otherwise tampers with the system, there will be serious consequences for seniors of today and far into the future.

John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO, spoke at the event. Gage, responsible for protecting the rights of well over half a million federal and D.C. government employees, realizes the real life consequences of cutting assistance to those receiving disability and financial hardship payments and the elderly who rely on Social Security benefits. These benefits, if cut, could cost seniors an average of $6,000 more a year.

Gage, who began working with the Social Security Administration in 1974, strongly encourages communities across the nation to protest these cuts that will be detrimental to the middle and lower class. “We need hundreds of these events all over the country. When Social Security is dismantled, it’s not coming back.”

While members of Congress haggle daily over program cuts and raising the debt ceiling, Americans relying on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security checks are waiting to see what the future holds. “A lot of this is happening behind closed doors,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the National Council of Social Security Administration. “People most well off are not carrying their share of the burden and extreme budget cuts are targeting the middle and lower class with a 41 percent cut in benefits.”

Skwierczynski details the problems that have already been caused by drastic cuts within the Social Security Administration. “Staffing levels have fallen and we’re not providing the type of service we used to.”

Because of these major cuts within the Social Security budget, a lot of complicated processes dealing with benefits and claims have been relegated to the Internet.

Detailed and sometimes confusing forms, which normally require some type of human interaction, have been left for beneficiaries to navigate on their own as they stumble through automated voice systems and websites.

“Grandparents today are caring for the grandchildren and helping the weak. Without social security funds, many seniors wouldn’t be able to afford rent,” said demonstrator Theresa Aeuter. “Regardless of what deal is reached and what party of Congress prevails, the winning side of this fight will not be the middle and lower class of America.”

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer