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Social Security's Silent Attackers

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Without Social Security, nearly half of Americans age 65 and older would live in poverty. And yet, the very foundation of Social Security is under silent attack.

About 160 million Americans contribute to Social Security through payroll taxes. In New York State alone, Social Security provides over $42 billion in benefits each year to one in every six residents -- over 3.1 million people. That is equivalent to 4 percent of the state's annual GDP in Social Security benefits alone.

In the congressional district that I represent, Social Security benefits total $1.68 billion to over 128,000 people. Nearly one in five people -- including senior citizens, disabled and children - rely on this vital program.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted February 2-7, 2011 with a margin of error of 3.5 percent found that 84 percent of Americans want to keep Social Security the same or increase it. Despite overwhelming support for Social Security, Republicans in Washington, D.C. have threatened to dismantle it entirely.

First, the Irresponsible Republican Spending Bill for the remainder of this year strips $1.7 billion away from what Social Security actually needs to continue operating. The bill was passed in the dead of night at 4:40 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011 by a vote of 235-189 in the House. These extreme cuts were included and will lead to furloughs of Social Security Administration workers for a month. So what?

This would lead to unanswered phones, closed doors and the halting of the claims process at field offices. In New York, that means 31,250 applications for Social Security could not be processed, 64,955 babies wouldn't be assigned Social Security numbers and over 440,000 seniors would hear nothing but a dial tone and see an empty building if they tried to get help. The economy would lose millions of dollars. Never in the history of Social Security has there been a backlog of retirement and survivors' benefit applications. We are painfully close to the first.

Second, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has proposed privatizing Social Security in his budget plan, the Ryan Roadmap. As the leading budgetary voice in the House, this view flies in the face of public opinion. In the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Social Security did not lose a penny. And yet, Chairman Ryan is altogether willing to risk everything - stability, security and the sole source of income for so many of our nation's seniors - to allow Wall Street investors to play Russian Roulette with our hard earned tax dollars.

The median Social Security benefit received by a retired worker in New York is a modest $14,700 annually. However, without this income, poverty rate among the elderly would nearly quadruple. Perhaps that is why President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so adamant about protecting Social Security. He said, "We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program."