Grass Roots Organizing hosts meeting about social programs cuts

Thursday, November 29, 2012 | 11:28 p.m. CST; updated 11:39 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 29, 2012

COLUMBIA – Seventy-five people sang out about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cuts Thursday night at the Columbia Labor Temple on North Garth Avenue. The tune was to the song "Here Comes Santa Claus."

The song, with lyrics by Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing, opened a meeting about potential cuts to the three social programs due to current negotiations in Washington to avoid the "fiscal cliff."  The meeting included sharing personal experiences with the programs and a speech explaining what the "fiscal cliff" is.

Five people, including Hussmann, sat around a table covered with a red and white checkered table cloth and two yellow signs reading "Hands off my Medicaid," and a white sign hand-painted in red reading "Hands off my Social Security." The people at the table took turns explaining their personal connection to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Hussmann said she did not work for the final three years of her mother's life so she could care for her. Hussman also said that her mother could not have lived to be 95 without social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Phyllis Neely spoke next, standing from the opposite side of the table as Hussmann to address the crowd. She said she has two sons, and the oldest is 13.  When he was two years old, he was diagnosed with severe autism.

"Over the years he has been helped by Social Security and disability, which we know he will need for the rest of his life," Neely said.  She said the family receives help from Boone County Family Resources and Advantage Nursing to help her son receive the care he needs. She told the crowd how he has improved, to which many expressed joy. One man responded, "Praise the Lord!"

Ralph Walker followed Neely. He said he is 63 and was laid off, but his unemployment will last until he is eligible for Social Security, unless the entry age is raised.

Walker said his wife has been ill for the past year and has qualified for disability assistance through Medicaid. He said that if the couple lost their benefits, they would face bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Jeannie Wyble and her husband, Jim Austin, were the last to speak. Wyble said she and her husband are disabled and have raised their granddaughter. Wyble said the granddaughter is now 16, and Medicaid has helped her receive the health care she needs.

Wyble said that after a heart attack and damage to her left arm, her husband's insurance raised premiums $100 a month until they exceeded $400. She discontinued her insurance plan and has not been covered since. This was 10 years ago.

Wyble said she has heart disease and her husband has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.

"We barely make it as things are, just barely," Wyble said.

Austin added that he worked until he was 64, which was when his COPD was discovered.

"I go to battle, and I'll fight for it every time, and I hope you will, too," Austin said about the social programs that keep his family afloat. 

"This is our money. This is the way we want to use it, right?" Hussmann said after the testimonials ended. "None of us is self-sufficient," she added.

Potential for cuts

Tom Kruckemeyer, the director of fiscal policy and chief economist of the Missouri Budget Project, a nonpartisan group that analyzes Missouri fiscal policy, was a guest speaker at the event. Kruckemeyer spoke about federal fiscal politics, explaining the events leading up to the current discussion of the "fiscal cliff." The term has come to be used for describing a series of severe spending cuts set to go into effect next year if Democrats and Republicans are unable to agree to cut $984 billion over a nine-year period. The "fiscal cliff" was part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, which is a cap controlled by Congress, put on the amount the country can borrow from other countries to pay off its debt.

Kruckemeyer said the "fiscal cliff," if it were to go into effect, would not touch Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Part D. Robin Acree of Grass Roots Organizing said that with the new talks to avoid the "fiscal cliff," anything could be cut.

"Every social program you can think of is on the table. That's a real threat," Acree said.

Kruckemeyer said the Missouri Budget Project is in favor of Medicaid expansion because of its potential economic benefits in Missouri, such as creating jobs

In Missouri, Medicaid covers parents with incomes of 19 percent of the federal poverty level, said Jay Angoff, acting regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services for Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, during a conference in October. The Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion would include those under 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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