Examiner

Social Security Rally Draws Crowd To Boro

FDR's retirement program celebrates 70 years and counting

Examiner – Thursday, August 18, 2005

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
Staff Writer

Michael Hamilton, a Roosevelt Borough Council member, gives a speech during a rally for Social Security held at the Roosevelt amphitheater Aug. 13. — SCOTT PILLING staff photographer
Area residents and state politicians rallied in front of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial August 13 to save Social Security.

The memorial, which stands in homage to the U.S. president who created the program that has provided retirement security, life-insurance coverage and disability coverage to all Americans for 70 years, served as a backdrop for Sen. Jon Corzine, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6) and other dignitaries, who all came together to celebrate the birthday of Social Security and to ensure its future.

"We're here today to tell President Bush to take his hands off our Social Security," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA), as the rally began.

This year, the Bush administration has proposed changes in the way Social Security is administered, Salowe-Kaye said.

The Bush administration's plan has two components: mandatory benefit reductions for American workers who earn more than $20,000 a year and optional private accounts for workers, according to NJCA.

"This privatization scheme would cut benefits and divert millions of dollars to Wall Street," Salowe-Kaye said.

If a worker chooses to participate in a private account, that individual could divert up to four percentage points of his or her payroll taxes into one of several private investment portfolios that the federal government authorizes him or her to choose from. The investment portfolios would be managed by private companies and have varying degrees of risk potential, according to NJCA.

NJCA, the state's largest, independent, citizen-watchdog group, sponsored the event, which was held in the amphitheater at Roosevelt Memorial Park, 1 N. Rochdale Ave., to encourage New Jersey residents to take action to keep the federal government from changing how Social Security works.

  
Sandra Goodstone, of Millstone, participates in a Social Security rally with more than 100 other area residents at the amphitheater in Roosevelt on Aug. 13. — SCOTT PILLING staff photographer
According to NJCA, the transition to private accounts would cost more than $2 trillion.

"This could push Social Security into bankruptcy," Salowe-Kaye said, "and force the federal government to borrow huge sums of money from foreign governments to pay the bills."

According to NJCA, private accounts would cut guaranteed benefits by 30 percent, resulting in the average retiree losing $152,000 in guaranteed benefits the first 20 years following retirement.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, today's Social Security program can pay Americans full benefits until 2052.

With regard to that statement, Salowe-Kaye and others in attendance that day said, "We don't deny that we have to make minor adjustments to ensure Social Security is there for future generations."

The celebration in Roosevelt was held in honor of the 70th anniversary on Aug. 14 of the day the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt.

Social Security has been called one of the most successful government programs in the world and has been credited with pulling millions of seniors out of poverty. The program has ensured that every generation of seniors for the past 70 years has been able to retire with dignity and has also provided financial security to surviving spouses and the disabled, according to Salowe-Kaye.

Roosevelt was selected to host New Jersey's anniversary celebration because of its roots dating back to the Roosevelt Administration when it was established in 1936 as a subsistence homestead to confront the effects of the Great Depression. Artist Ben Shahn, a longtime resident of Roosevelt, created a mural titled "The Meaning of Social Security," which is based on FDR's address on his signing of the Social Security Act. The mural is still on display in Washington, D.C.

Shahn's son, Jonathan Shahn, who created the FDR Memorial in Roosevelt, also spoke during the event.

"My father painted a mural in what was once the Social Security building in Washington, D.C.," Shahn said. "On one side of a long hallway, he painted what the world is like with Social Security, and on the other side he painted what the world would be like without it."

Shahn said his father used work as the central theme of the mural. One side of the mural depicts security and images such as families, farmers, houses and plentiful harvest. On the reverse side, the images of unemployment lines, endless waiting, empty railroad tracks, abandoned houses and people sleeping in the streets were painted in contrast.

Lily Eskelsen, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association, said, "Social Security reflects the good characteristics of America. It provides safety and security and prevents people from losing their life savings and employers from dropping pension plans.

"Social Security," Eskelsen said, "is backed by the full faith and credit of the American government."

Eskelsen said the Bush Administration is lying to people by stating that the current program is broken.

"These words just mean that big business isn't profiting off this public institution," Eskelsen said.

According to Eskelsen, privatization would mean that American citizens "own the risk of losing their Social Security."

"A bad stock market can take Social Security away," Eskelsen said.

Eskelsen said citizens need representatives in the government fighting to protect their Social Security form privatization.

Maralyn Askin, an AARP member, speaks to a group of more than 100 people at the Roosevelt amphitheater during a rally for Social Security on Aug. 13. — SCOTT PILLING staff photographer
Pallone said, "Congressional Republican leaders are willing to risk 70 years of success all in the name of privatization."

Pallone said when Congress returns to Washington in September, the House leadership will attempt to bring up the privatization proposal as part of a larger retirement security bill.

"It's critical you make your voice heard so we can prevent any privatization bill from moving forward," Pallone said.

Pallone said that this year, the anniversary of Social Security is going largely unnoticed.

"Nowhere on the Social Security Web site will you see a mention of this 70-year milestone," Pallone said. "If the Bush Administration had its way, the anniversary would go unnoticed. This is in sharp contrast to past celebrations, including the 60th anniversary in 1995."

Corzine said, "Let's cut the cake and not Social Security."

"For 70 years," Corzine said, "the Social Security system has provided a promise and commitment between generations that if you work hard, pay your taxes and play by the rules, you'll be able to retire and live in dignity."

Corzine said the plan to privatize Social Security would undermine the program's fundamental guarantee.

"It's been our nation's goal to pass along a society to our children better than the one we found," Corzine said. "Saddling our children and grandchildren with greater and greater debt -- as the president's plan will do -- is simply an effort by ideologues to dismantle a program they never supported in the first place."

Corzine urged citizens to contact their local representatives to tell those in favor of changing Social Security to "keep your privatizing hands off."

After Corzine spoke, the 125 people gathered in attendance at the event broke out into the Social Security Song, written by Alex Cave and Doug Kelley and sung to the tune of "This Land Is Your Land."

"This plan is your plan, this plan is my plan, from California to the New York Island," they sang. "What if your savings that you must count on goes into something that works like Enron. You can't afford to lose all your future."

"This plan's been made for you and me," they sang.

After the ceremony, Roosevelt Councilman Michael Hamilton called the celebration "marvelous."

Hamilton said, "It was amazing to see so many people come out during one of the hottest days ever in Roosevelt."

Hamilton said Social Security and the borough of Roosevelt are just two of FDR's achievements.

"Out of his presidency came this wonderful community and Social Security, which are both still active and democratic," Hamilton said.

"The people in Roosevelt take care of each other, despite any kind of differences, the same way that Social Security takes care of all classes of people," Hamilton said.

NJCA organizes campaigns that promote economic, social, racial and political justice, according to its Web site. It encourages the active involvement of New Jersey residents in challenging the public and private institutions and agencies that impact residents' lives.

For more information about the rally or NJCA, visit www.njcitizenaction.org.
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