By William K. Alcorn
Mildred Brooke of Boardman considers President Barack Obama’s warning that Social Security checks might be delayed next month “a little blackmail.”
“It’s just something to get those people in Washington, D.C., moving. I don’t really think it will happen,” said Brooke, 89, while bowling in a Senior Olympics event Wednesday at Camelot Lanes.
If it does, a lot of people would be hurting, she said.
“You have to think about that (being without Social Security) before you retire and forget about that plastic,” said Brooke, a Social Security recipient.
This statement by Obama on Tuesday has raised concern: “I cannot guarantee that those checks [totaling $23 billion] go out on Aug. 3 if we haven’t resolved this issue [debt limit]. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.”
The administration says the U.S. debt limit will be reached Aug. 2, the day before the next batch of Social Security checks are to go out.
Social Security payments and veterans’ checks, among other payments, could be at risk if negotiators don’t reach a deal to raise the debt limit above $14.3 trillion by Aug. 2. That’s when the Treasury Department says the government will stop being able to borrow money.
The issue is not whether to increase the government’s borrowing limit, but how to do it. Republicans want the government to stop spending an amount equal to what it borrows; and Democrats are calling for tax increases to pay for the additional loans.
In the meantime, seniors and veterans and others are left wondering if they will receive their benefit checks on time, and some wonder how they would get along without the money.
Another participant in Wednesday’s Senior Olympics event, Lista Mellott, 92, of New Waterford, said she could handle being without her Social Security check for a little while, but it would “hurt after a bit.”
Sandy Smith, 74, of Akron, said she would be concerned if both she and her husband lost their Social Security for any length of time.
Smith said she has a problem with how the federal government operates.
“Raising the debt limit bothers me ... somehow they have to figure out how to spend only what they get in. But for some people, their Social Security check means everything, and if it would keep Social Security checks coming, I favor raising the debt limit as a short-term solution,” she said.
Smith said a long-term financial fix is needed.
The Area Agency on Aging 11 believes that older adults heavily rely on their monthly checks and that government default should not be an option.
“We strongly urge legislators to work out their differences without such dire consequences to older adults,” said Lisa Solley, chief of community relations, wellness and training for the agency.
She said more than 13 million older adults in the country live in or on the edge of poverty, often on less than $22,000 each year. These seniors have to decide every day whether to pay for food, medicine, or a place to live. They live one bad break, one accident, or one layoff away from economic disaster, Solley said.
“Seniors, veterans and many disabled need to pay rent, buy groceries or pay utilities every month. The majority don’t have savings accounts to carry them and cover all of their needs. If the government can’t get checks out, this could be life-altering for hundreds of thousands of people,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Wednesday in an email that he, along with other members of Congress, will continue to work to stop the potential default.
“Republicans must work with Democrats to avoid a default crisis and the interruption of vital services like pay for military service members or Social Security checks for senior citizens,” he said.
Brown said government employees, including members of Congress, also won’t be paid if the budget deficit isn’t resolved in time.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, couldn’t be reached to comment Thursday.
The National Council on Aging fully supports a balanced approach to solving the nation’s economic struggle. “But it’s unthinkable to drastically cut programs that help so many of our most vulnerable citizens survive every day,” said James Firman, president and chief executive officer of NCOA.
This is not the first time the federal government has faced shutdown. The government shutdown of 1995 and early 1996 occurred after a conflict between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress over funding for Medicare, education, the environment and public health.
When a budget for the new fiscal year was not approved Oct. 1, 1995, the federal government operated on a continuing resolution authorizing interim funding for departments. Clinton vetoed the spending bill sent to him by Congress, causing the government to put nonessential workers on furlough and suspend non-essential services for about five weeks.
Contributor: Staff writer Elise Franco