Social Security panel seeks to educate, spur public action on topic

Friday, April 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:04 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ed Metzen did not mince words as he spoke about President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security: “This is not just a problem, it is scary as hell.”

Metzen, an MU professor emeritus of consumer and family economics, wasted no time Thursday night warning more than 60 Columbia residents and students at a forum organized by a number of local activist organizations that any attempts to privatize Social Security would “end in disaster” for future generations.

“Do not fall for the gobbledygook that Social Security will not be there for you in 50 years,” he said. “If we allow them to privatize it, it will disappear.”

The event was sponsored by Missourians United to Protect Social Security, a recent coalition among local organiza-tions and chapters of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, NAACP and the United Activist Network. Rachel Wright, a ProVote volunteer, said their goal was to educate individuals about the recent developments in Bush’s Social Security plans and give them an outlet to express their opinions directly to their national and state representatives.

“We really are focusing on education and action,” Wright said. “People need to know what is going on so they can make their own choices and tell their representatives what they think about Social Security.”

Wright and Metzen, along with Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia; former Rep. Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City; and Mary Ratcliff, president of the Missouri NAACP; spoke before the half-full Keller Auditorium at MU and answered questions about the future of the program that pays million of retired Americans, widows, orphans and people with disabilities.

Metzen directly attacked Republicans, saying they had been distorting the facts and using scare tactics to lure younger people into their plan.

“Young people have to get involved and know what is going on,” he said. “You are going to get older a hell of a lot faster than you think, and any financial adviser worth his or her salt will tell you that you will need a solid financial base to live when you retire.”

Although each of the speakers offered their own reasons for opposing any privatization of Social Security, Baker said she would like to see supporters from both sides come together to honestly debate the issue — something she said has yet to happen anywhere.

“There have been a lot of myths put out there about Social Security,” Baker said after the forum. “We need to know what it is that is really happening in the federal government to form this program so we can make an informed deci-sion.”

A seat right next to Baker was reserved for U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo. In a letter addressed to MU senior Erin Kennedy, the representative’s office declined an invitation to the forum without stating a reason.

Hulshof was one of many legislators from Missouri that the coalition asked to participate in the meeting that did not come, but a large emphasis was placed on Hulshof’s absence as organizers placed a large sign where Hulshof was supposed to sit.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia; Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence; and Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia; sent their support for the coalition’s goals but could not attend Thursday’s forum either. Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who did not state his position on Social Security privatization, also did not attend the forum.

In February, a delegation from the coalition requested a public meeting with Hulshof in March, but it did not re-ceive a response from the congressman’s office, according to the coalition’s press release. The coalition then set up the date for Thursday’s meeting.

Wright stressed that the coalition had checked Hulshof’s schedule to make sure the meeting date would not conflict with anything he had planned.

“We are completely disappointed that our congressman will not meet with us,” Wright said. “He is our employee. How does he expect to represent us if he will not listen to us?”

Pam Forbes was a part of the delegation that tried to talk to Hulshof.

“I think it’s disappointing, and it’s unacceptable that he’s not here to speak to the people (he represents) about some-thing so important,” she said.

In a second letter to the coalition, Hulshof asserted his support for privatization.

“If done correctly,” Hulshof’s letter stated, “voluntary personal accounts can improve Social Security’s long-term financial health... ”

He also repeated the president’s assertion that Social Security will be unable to pay out benefits by 2042.

As the meeting ended, Wright and a number of other volunteers with ProVote urged residents to take some action by either calling their federal and state representatives or canvassing the Columbia area about privatization.

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