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Whitehouse promises local seniors he’ll fight for Social Security

WESTERLY — Martha Marsh doesn’t follow politics or the machinations of the federal government very much but she knows one thing about Social Security.

“I’m living on it. I hope nothing happens to it,” Marsh said after finishing a lunch of pork loin and vegetables Tuesday at The Westerly Senior Citizens Center.

Marsh, 69, and about 50 others were on hand to have lunch and listen to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., discuss his promised plans to fight for the preservation or increase of benefits that Social Security recipients receive.

“Your congressional delegation is very srongly opposed to any, any efforts to cut or reduce or privatize Social Security. It’s an important program. Seniors used to live in poverty before Social Security and poverty among seniors has been reduced dramatically because of this very, very good program which you paid into and which you earned,” Whitehouse said.

The Democrat from Newport focused his remarks on President Barack Obama’s plan to change the measure of inflation used to calculate Social Security cost-of-living adjustments from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clercial Workers (CPI) to the chained CPI beginning in 2015. The chained CPI uses a formula that accounts for changes in consumer behavior when prices for specific goods increase. Whitehouse said the formula does not properly account for seniors’ spending. Changes in consumer prices are used to determine cost of living adjustments (COLAs) made under Social Security, other government programs, and in some parts of the private sector.

Obama proposed the used of the chained CPI as a means of slowing the rate that Social Security benefits increase.

Marsh said she had never heard of the president’s plan but preferred that no changes be made to Social Security “unless they have a backup plan.”

Whitehouse said the current system is difficult enough for seniors and often results in little or no benefit increases despite increasing costs of food, gasoline, and prescription medications.

“If anything the Social Security COLA hasn’t kept up with the real costs that seniors are charged,” Whitehouse said.

The state’s junior senator said he was joined by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and the state’s congressmen, James Langevin and David Cicilline, also fellow Democrats, in the fight to prevent the use of the chained CPI for calculating Social Security benefits. Whitehouse said that he and Reed were invited with eight other Democrat senators to have dinner with Obama about two months ago. Rhode Island, Whitehouse said, was the only state to have both of its senators invited. “We both told the president we are going to fight very hard to protect against chained CPI,” he said.

Robert King, president of the center’s board of directors, said that many seniors, including himself, rely heavily on Social Security benefits.

“We need more of it. A lot of seniors don’t have very much. We worked all our lives and paid into it, that’s what it’s there for,” King, 71, said.

After his remarks to his luncheon audience, Whitehouse said that while he wished the president agreed with his position on the use of chained CPI, he was “ready to tangle” with the president, regardless of party ties.

Whitehouse served a piece of a cake to each of the seniors. The cake was intended to mark the 78th anniversary of Social Security. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law on Aug. 14, 1935.

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