Protest of SS privatization - Rally to keep Social Security unchanged at Reichert office

By Ruth Longoria

If President Bush's idea for Social Security privatization is implemented it will affect more than just the elderly.

In fact, most affected will be disabled, low-income seniors who don't have a retirement income or insurance outside of Social Security and Medicare. Young people, both those who are expecting to receive their benefits someday when they retire and children who are currently relying on a deceased parent's benefits, would also be affected.

Concern over the potential privatization of Social Security prompted more than 30 protesters to converge on Congressman Dave Reichert's Island office Tuesday, April 26, armed with polite to more assertive signs that read: ``Please Don't Privatize'' and ``Hands off Social Security -- No Privatization.''

As cars passed by the crowd on 78th Avenue S.E., some drivers honked and waved in apparent support. The demonstration, which was organized by Washington Citizen Action, a Seattle-based lobby organization, was one of 35 such displays across the country, including at the nation's capitol where Reichert is currently performing his duties as representative of the 8th District.

Reichert took five or 10 minutes Monday morning to call his office and speak with protest organizers while they were in a meeting with his Island staff. During that call, Reichert told members of the Washington Citizen Action that he was listening to their message and would consider their opinions when making future legislative decisions.

Ania Bezterda, 28, a community outreach worker with Washington Citizen Action, said she felt better after Reichert's call.

``It was good to have him join us on the phone even if he couldn't be there,'' Bezterda said. ``Before he called, his aides said they would get back to us in a few weeks, but it was better to get his immediate response. We let him know we are working very aggressively on Social Security and funding for Medicare and he let us know he's considering all the options.''

Although he has said he wants to preserve the current Social Security benefits and likes the idea of an opt in private investment option in addition to benefits, Reichert hasn't made up is mind on privatization. And, what his constituents have to say plays a big part in what his vote will be when it comes time to take a stand, his press secretary, Heather Janik, said.

``The congressman is really open to listening to ideas, and what proposals are put on the table. He feels that on any issue it's important to listen to both sides, and the reasons behind those ideas,'' Janik said. ``His vote isn't Dave Reichert's, it's the people of District 8's.''

During the rally, Dick Crowley, 45, of Issaquah, carried a sign that read: ``Consider Me, Not Privatization.''

Crowley lives in low-income, section 8 housing and is on Social Security disability income.

Crowley said he can't afford a possible loss or cut in Social Security or Medicare. ``There are those of us who depend on our benefits and couldn't do without them,'' he said.

Kent resident Anne Kim is a 50-year-old single mother of two. She lost her management job four years ago because of illness. Kim is on a disability now but fears changes to Social Security may take away some of the benefits she has come to depend on, such as transportation, dental and vision coverage. Kim spoke at the rally and said she hopes Congressman Reichert listens to the needs of people in his district.

``I don't have a car and I don't make enough money for my rent, much less bus fare everywhere,'' Kim said. ``If transportation gets cut I'm in trouble. And worse, if dental and vision get cut I couldn't survive -- I'm a diabetic. I have to go to the eye doctor.''

Several Island residents stopped to listen as protesters voiced their concerns, some nodding their heads and others picking up signs to join in the protest.

Buddy Moreman has lived on Mercer Island for about 30 years. Moreman said he supports the protesters.

``I'm against privatization. Most people do not have the necessary skills and information to invest their money,'' he said. ``I have an engineering degree and my field is not investing. When I tried investing in the stock market, I invested and made a small fortune. Trouble is, I originally had a large one,'' he joked.

Catherine Swadley, 81, of Issaquah also is concerned about what she calls the ``risky business of investing an income.'' Though it probably wouldn't affect her benefits, she said investing Social Security funds in the stock market is a scary proposition.

``It's risky, the stock market goes up and down. For lower income people that could lose their income or lose their house because of a stock market crash, this is vital to them,'' Swadley said. ``There are many people who haven't got pensions. For wealthier people, we have a cushion. But this is their safety net.''

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