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AFL-CIO, others warn against benefit cuts

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- The upcoming "lame duck" Congress could pose a major threat to the welfare of thousands of West Virginians, speakers at a state AFL-CIO news conference warned Thursday.

Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, talked about the so-called "fiscal cliff" and asked, "Where are we going to go from here?

"We want Medicare to stay in place as it is -- no cuts. Don't touch Social Security. Don't cut it.

"Let's create jobs -- that is the biggest issue in this country. We need to be vigilant," Perdue said during the news conference at Covenant House in Charleston.

"The top 2 percent [of our population] spent $6 billion on this election campaign. The other 98 percent had to listen to all their advertisements."

Perdue said he believes the prosperity of the other 98 percent is critical to the nation's future. "They will spend money they get."

Wayne Rebich, a carpenter and Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation leader, asked why some politicians talk about making cuts in benefits and raising the age when people become eligible to collect Social Security.

"Social Security has not contributed one dime to the deficit. I don't know why it is even a part of this discussion."

One proposal has been to raise the minimum age for collecting Social Security benefits from 62 to 65.

"It is hard for construction workers to work that long. And how do you expect a coal miner to work until he is 65 years old?" Rebich asked.

"People whose jobs involve hard labor can't work into their late 60s. It's not physically possible."

Rebich also urged Congress to eliminate the current provision that ends annual payments into Social Security funds once an individual's annual wages exceed $110,000.

Hattie Johnson, a retired worker from Union Carbide who now works part-time providing home health care for the elderly, said, "My patients depend on Medicare, which they paid into their entire working lives, to ensure they have the care and help they require to live independently and not in a nursing home.

"Home health care is important," Johnson said. "If you don't do it, it doesn't get done."

Jacqueline Jones of Dunbar specializes in helping young children in the Appalachian Head Start Program.

"Children are our future. They need Head Start. We encourage them to get more schooling so they can pull themselves up out of poverty. Their parents can't afford private day care or private preschools," Jones said.

"Every dollar of funding is critical to the program and the children it serves."

Retired from the U.S. Air Force, Jack Tincher has worked for the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Beckley.

"True patriotism means taking care of our veterans, especially when they come home from the battlefield wounded and in need of aid. Cutting benefit funding for veterans breaks a sacred promise our country made to the men and women who serve it."

Tincher said he believes "we are approaching a very dangerous time for working people and veterans. Everyone has to stand together."

Tincher also criticized the billions of dollars that the Pentagon continues to send into the pockets of private military contractors.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen's Action Group, said, "The federal budget is a moral issue. Social program cuts would hurt the quality of life and services for our workers and our families."

A report recently published by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy found 20.5 percent of West Virginians depend on federal benefits for personal income.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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