Hunter said, "Social Security was never meant to be a sole source of income. But today's pensions benefits have gone away for many people. West Virginians need to be aware of what is happening."
Today's CPI, before any proposed changes, Miller said, already "underestimates the goods and services that people 65 and over need. A Chained CPI would further erode that calculation."
During the 2012 election campaigns and debates, Miller said, "almost every candidate said he or she would protect Social Security. Let's make them stick to their promises."
President Obama has allowed Chained CPI proposals to become part of ongoing discussions about how to reduce the federal deficit.
Earlier this month, Erskine Bowles, a White House chief-of-staff under Democrat Bill Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., urged Congress to "adopt Chained CPI" to achieve savings.
In February 2010, Obama named Bowles and Simpson to head a commission to make proposals to cut federal spending.
A recent AARP Public Policy Institute Fact Sheet focusing on West Virginia detailed Social Security's local impacts:
• Ninety-two percent of West Virginians 65 or older -- 277,734 people -- receive Social Security benefits. Their average annual benefit was $13,500.
• Social Security makes up 70 percent of the annual income for a typical older West Virginian and 77 percent of annual incomes for low- and middle-income seniors.
In addition to providing individual benefits, Social Security plays a major role boosting the state's economy. In 2011, Social Security sent $5.7 billion in benefits to West Virginians.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said, "If your goal is to accurately calculate the cost-of-living of seniors, going to Chained CPI is the wrong way to go. It will drastically underestimate inflation for seniors who spend a larger share of their income on health care, which has generally risen more rapidly in price than other items.
"The Chained CPI will greatly impact West Virginia, where one in four seniors rely on Social Security as their only source of income.
"It would be much better if government could produce a full 'Elderly CPI' so we would actually know the inflation experienced by the elderly," Boettner said.
Chained CPI cuts, Hunter said, would have major impacts on military veterans and be particularly harmful to injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
A 30-year-old veteran with severe disabilities would see his annual Social Security benefits drop by $1,425 a year when he reaches 45 and by $3,231 when he becomes 65, under Chained CPI calculations.
If approved, the Chained CPI proposal would cost West Virginia veterans more than $103 million during the next 10 years and more than $17 billion to all veterans nationally, according to AARP.
Boettner also pointed out that federal law specifically states Social Security is a separate and independent government program that should not be used in any budget calculations.
"Social Security does not add to the deficit. Why this is on the chopping block to reduce short-term deficits is mystifying.
"This is especially important today, since employer pensions and individual savings have largely collapsed over the last decade and defined benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing.
"Today, only half of West Virginians have a defined contribution plan, like an IRA or 401(k) and the workers who do have these plans have only limited amounts of money in them," Boettner said.Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.