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PSARA Meets with Sen. Patty Murray on Federal Budget & Stands with Grocery Workers

By Robby Stern 

Senator Patty Murray invited PSARA to a meeting to discuss the upcoming budget negotiations between the Senate and House. Many in Congress have a strong desire to avoid the damage and drama that just occurred during the federal government shut down and the debt default crisis. There also seems to be a desire to eliminate sequestration, i.e. the across the board cuts that went into effect the last time they could not agree on a budget.

These upcoming negotiations present challenges for those of us who support preserving and strengthening our earned benefits and safety net programs. A negotiated agreement cannot and should not include cuts to our earned benefits and further reductions in programs essential to the most vulnerable in our communities. Sequestration makes no sense but eliminating sequestration if it means greater cuts to vital programs while the defense budget is held essentially harmless is unacceptable. Congress must raise revenue which Senator Murray proposed in the budget that passed the Senate prior to the previous budget crisis!

Joining me at the meeting with Sen. Murray was one of our PSARA members, a 70 year old woman. Our member’s sole source of income is her Social Security payment, around $950 per month. She spoke to Sen. Murray about how adoption of the Chained CPI would amount to a significant decline in her income and in her ability to remain an activist member of the community. She is already unable to afford basics like the cost of internet service and shopping for clothes. Sen. Murray heard clearly how our member would suffer a very significant loss if the Chained CPI is adopted as part of the agreement.

Sen. Murray pointed out that the Chained CPI did not appear in either the Senate’s proposed budget in the House budget authored by Rep. Ryan. What was in the House budget was raising the age of eligibility for Social Security, greater cost sharing for Medicare and block granting Medicaid. Sen. Murray knows these proposals are a terrible idea.

We suggested to the Senator that instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, the Democrats should go on the offensive and propose strengthening Social Security and Medicare. There is a road map to accomplish that goal. Sens. Harkin & Begich have co-sponsored the Strengthening Social Security Act that would Scrap the Cap on Social Security. PSARA also recommends lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to bring a healthier cohort into the program. Others at the meeting proposed giving the Secretary of Health & Human Services the ability to negotiate with Pharma over the cost of prescription drugs, a huge money saver.

Sen. Murray really listened to us and was very sympathetic to the ideas we discussed. I do not envy her having to negotiate with Paul Ryan, a hard line right winger. We will have to be active as the negotiations begin on October 30.

Victory for Grocery Workers 

is a Victory for All of Us 

Some PSARA members may be asking why PSARA became so involved in supporting the grocery workers in the Puget Sound region as they came within minutes of a strike? What is the connection between an organization that advocates for a secure and dignified retirement for all and a fight by grocery workers for dignity and respect?

Twenty four hours before the final negotiated settlement was reached, some PSARA members attended a spirited community rally in support of the grocery workers at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. We actively expressed our

solidarity.

Jeff Johnson, the President of the WA State Labor Council discussed the role the grocery workers play in our lives. How many times have each of us sought the help of these workers when we go to their stores? How many times have they provided a sympathetic ear or helpful direction. Jeff pointed out that the workers are the ones who establish the reputations of the stores –it is certainly not the corporate executives who most of us cannot even name.

It is a matter of common decency, a value we desperately need to live in a civilized society, that the workers who provide this essential human service be treated with dignity, respect and the ability to experience economic security for themselves and their families.

Many seniors, living on fixed incomes are financially vulnerable. That financial vulnerability accompanies our increasing fragility as we get older. But, we cannot afford to have tunnel vision. Low wage workers are also financially vulnerable and the cuts to their wages and health care benefits proposed by the large grocery corporations could have easily sent their already difficult lives into a tail spin.

We live in communities and our lives are interdependent. We need allies to fight to preserve and strengthen our earned benefits against those who seek to decimate these programs.

To have allies, we must be allies. Vulnerable populations standing together can be a significant and maybe even a majority force in our communities and in our country.

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