For more than 50 years, AARP has been committed to protecting Social Security benefits for the millions of Americans who have paid into the program through a lifetime of hard work. Considering the current discussions around the federal budget debt and deficits, it is important to remember the promises made by politicians, including President Barack Obama, to protect Social Security benefits for current seniors.

It is also important to note that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the nation’s deficit.

Now, President Obama is pushing a budget proposal called the “chained CPI” which would cut Social Security and other benefits for today’s seniors and veterans, and increase taxes for most taxpayers. The chained CPI would change the way the cost-of-living adjustment is calculated, reducing Social Security benefit amounts every year.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Maine was home to 133,000 veterans in 2011. Using data from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, AARP calculates that adoption of the chained CPI would result in Maine’s veterans losing more than $94 million over a 10-year period.

The same data shows that Maine’s 204,129 Social Security beneficiaries would lose well over half a billion dollars during that same period.

That would be a significant loss, as the average monthly Social Security benefit in Maine is slightly more than $1,000. It is even more significant when one considers that more than one third of Maine’s Social Security beneficiaries 65 and over have no other source of income. The smallest reduction in their benefit would have a huge impact.

It appears that older voters in Maine do remember the promises made about Social Security during the elections. According to a recent AARP survey of voters in Maine over the age of 50, 90 percent of respondents believe it is very important not to reduce Social Security benefits for current seniors.

This rejection of chained CPI is not limited to one party. According to the survey, 94 percent of Democrats, 86 percent of Republicans, and 91 percent of independents in Maine oppose it.

Chained CPI represents a shattered promise — at a high cost — to seniors, to people with disabilities and to veterans. That cost would grow higher every year, making it increasingly challenging to pay for life’s essentials, such as groceries, heat and medicine.

For the average 65-plus retiree, the cumulative benefit cut would be more than $5,000 by age 80, and more than $14,000 by age 90. With people living longer, it is easy to see how harmful the proposal is.

Even worse, older veterans would be hurt twice by chained CPI because it would cut both their Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits. A 62-year-old veteran would lose $32,000 in total benefits by age 90.

Is that really the way to treat the men and women who have sacrificed so much for us all?

Moreover, while the chained CPI would primarily impact Social Security benefits, it would also affect other calculations, such as the tax code that is indexed to the CPI. Once again, the impact would be felt the most by those of modest incomes. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, by 2021, taxpayers making between $10,000 and $20,000 would see a 14.5 percent increase in their federal taxes under a chained CPI.

Proponents of the chained CPI portray it as a more accurate indicator of the cost-of-living. It is based on the notion that when the cost of an item goes up, you simply switch to a cheaper alternative. It is time for supporters of this idea to get acquainted with the real lives of people receiving Social Security.

A typical senior has an annual income of only $20,000 a year and spends much of that money on necessities such as prescription drugs and health care, which have no lower-cost substitutes. For someone 85-plus, out-of-pocket health care spending is two-and-a-half times what it is for a person under 65.

Seniors aren’t choosing between the filet mignon and a burger. They are often choosing between heat and health care.

Chained CPI is not only harmful and illogical; it is also out-of-place in the discussion of deficit reduction. As a self-financed program providing earned benefits, Social Security has not caused the deficit — and it should not be turned into an ATM for politicians trying to address it.

According to AARP’s survey, 85 percent of Maine voters 50 and over overwhelmingly agree. Maine people deserve a separate national conversation about how to protect Social Security for today’s seniors and responsibly strengthen it for our children and grandchildren.

Richard Livingston of Auburn is AARP Maine state president.


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