Social Security plans questioned

Privatizing the program would put rural Missourians at risk, a report says.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:14 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Missourians United to Protect Social Security unveiled a report on Tuesday saying the Bush administration’s plans to privatize Social Security and reduce benefits would jeopardize the financial future of 386,120 rural residents statewide who receive checks each month.


“I’m really troubled that this administration would want to replace a program that has relieved more people living their golden years in abject poverty than any other program,” state Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said during a news conference detailing the findings of the report.


The five-page report outlines data that the group says demonstrate the adverse effects a Social Security overhaul would have on people 60 and older, who make up 20 percent of the rural population.


Playing on an assumed socioeconomic divide between urban and rural residents, the report also asserts that cutting benefits and offering private accounts would mean removing some people’s only means of financial stability.


“Many of these folks do not have pension plans that are available to people in urban areas,” Shoemyer said. “To roll the dice with Wall Street is wrong.”


The report said that in 2003, 8.9 percent of all rural income nationwide came from Social Security, compared to 5.2 percent in urban areas. Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin said that given those figures, any cut in benefits would go right to the bone.


“If those funds are not there, all of Missouri, and all of the United States, suffers,” Elkin said.


Both Elkin and Shoemyer said any fallout from a failure of private investment accounts, which have been championed by President Bush and congressional Republicans, would present challenges for all levels of government.


Shoemyer said the problem eventually would fall into the laps of city and county officials.


“If it works, great, but what if it doesn’t work?” Shoemyer asked. “Someone is going to have to pick up the slack. We can’t just set these folks that have nothing — no resources — aside.”


The news conference follows repeated efforts by the group to organize town hall meetings with U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., over the past six months. The group said Hulshof has rebuffed every attempt to organize such an event. Hulshof sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which can help shape the potential legislation.


“We’ve tried to set up a meeting about three times now,” said Rachel Wright, spokeswoman for the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition. “His staff has told the media that he’s not interested in meeting with these types of groups and these kinds of people.”


Hulshof spokesman Scott Baker said that Hulshof has sat down with other groups concerned about Social Security reform but that groups such as Missourians United to Protect Social Security are only looking to cause a political ruckus.


“He has had thoughtful discussions with different groups not involved in creating a political circus and political gamesmanship,” Baker said.


Despite Hulshof’s reluctance, Wright, Elkin, Shoemyer and Russ Kremer, president of the Missouri Farmers Union, said the goal of the report is to communicate the concerns of constituents and to pressure Hulshof.

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