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Transcript: Chat With AARP President Rob Romasco on Strengthening Social Security

Rob Romasco:  Hello and welcome to today’s live chat about some proposed changes to Social Security! Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. And thank you all for sending in your questions. Please keep them coming, and we’ll try to get to as many as we can …

AARP:  We’re so happy to have Rob Romasco, AARP’s president, with us today to answer your questions. The federal budget and the deficit are on everybody’s minds this week, as we wait to see whether time will run out before automatic budget cuts take effect. AARP and its members are dedicated to finding solutions to the nation’s budget and deficit dilemmas, but not by cutting the Social Security benefits each of you has worked so hard to earn to remedy a problem Social Security did not create. This gives us a lot to talk about, and we’re eager to hear your questions.

Rob Romasco: Let’s get started!

Comment From Y.A.: I can appreciate that Medicare/Social Security presents an easy target to a Congress that calls these benefits "entitlements," a word that implies it's something seniors are entitled to rather than something they've earned over many years. How can AARP — and should they — reframe the conversation from "entitled" to "earned"?

AARP: Thanks so much for your question. AARP believes Americans have earned their Social Security benefits through a lifetime of hard work and that’s why we’re fighting right now to stop Congress from agreeing to a budget deal that would cut Social Security benefits by $112 billion over the next 10 years.

Rob Romasco: The budget cut is especially harmful because it would start now and get bigger and bigger every year. Our message to the president and Congress is that Social Security didn’t cause the deficit, so it shouldn’t be cut to fix Washington’s budget problems. Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of seniors, we’re calling for Washington to start a separate conversation about how we can protect Social Security for today’s seniors and strengthen the program for future generations.

Comment From Madeline: Does the fight in Washington right now over "sequestration" impact my Social Security check?

Rob Romasco: In short, no it doesn’t. Social Security and disability payments were exempt from sequestration, so it would have no impact on your check. On the other hand, the Social Security Administration may have to reduce its services to the public, which means it could take longer to process retirement and disability claims. Even before sequestration, Congress underfunds the Social Security Administration by more than a billion dollars per year, so there is already a huge backlog of disability claims. AARP believes Congress should adequately fund the Social Security Administration so Americans can continue to get the benefits they’ve earned.

Comment From Elizabeth: What is happening with the proposal for "chained CPI?" I oppose that way of figuring COLAS.

Rob Romasco: The "chained CPI" is a significant benefit cut that would snowball over time, costing seniors thousands of dollars over their lifetimes. Here's the way it works. Right now, the annual cost of living for Social Security is based on a measure of workers' wages inflation. The proposed chained CPI would be a different measure. It assumes that you will buy a cheaper version of what's available if the price of food or gasoline goes up. The result is the cost of living adjustment would be less every year. This theory falls short since many seniors spend much of their money on basic goods like prescription drugs, utilities and heath care — items that don’t have lower-cost substitutes. For instance, seniors spend a much higher proportion of their incomes on health care. There are few lower cost substitutes for quality health care. And in general, health care costs rise much faster than prices of other goods.

Next page: Social Security benefit cuts for people 55 and older. »

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