Senior citizens take a stand against Congress, sequester



More than the youth are restless in Charlotte.

About 40 people - almost all senior citizens - gathered in front of the local Social Security Administration office Wednesday afternoon to voice their concern with the automatic spending cuts due to a sequestration that will most likely occur March 1.

If Congress and President Obama can't negotiate ways to compensate for the budget deficit, defense spending will decrease by 7.1 percent and non-defense by 5.1 percent. Per a Congressional Budget Office estimate, about 750,000 jobs will be lost nationwide throughout 2013.

North Carolina alone would lose about 29,000, according to a George Mason University report.

Members of local activist organization Action NC bused people from different parts of Charlotte to attend Wednesday's meeting. Some said they came from as far as Steele Creek to highlight the urgent need for Congress to reach some sort of deal. Action NC director Pat McCoy said that leading up to the event his group had been working with activist senior citizens, which is why so many were present.

But many also came because they know people who rely on government agencies for necessities - themselves, the poor - will bear the brunt of budget cuts. Though Social Security and Medicaid are exempt from a sequester, less people staffing government offices would still create a dire situation.

"There's a real concern that if there's a cutback in their workforce, it will slow and reduce their ability to cut checks," McCoy said.

Shirley Irby's gotten less from her Medicaid checks in the past year and is afraid any cuts to Medicare would hurt her even more. (Irby is qualified to receive both under a dual-eligibility provision.)

"It's going to be hard for everyone, but for seniors like myself on a fixed income, it can be very hard. I need this," she said, referring to Action NC's calls for citizens to phone their representatives and urge them to act against the sequester.

McCoy addresses the crowd

McCoy said in a later interview that Congress' inability to reach a deal boils down to fundamentals.

"This question is going to keep coming up: How do we fund the federal government?" he said. "Do we increase taxes? Do we cut ... social programs? This really is about the role of government and about what is a fair system." He added cuts would affect education, emergency response teams - even create delays at airports, since fewer air-traffic controllers would man towers.

Action NC has been working with Americans for Tax Fairness and other groups to host rallies similar to Wednesday's. Charlotte's was one of 23 that happened nationwide that day. Suggestions McCoy's organization and others support for bringing in new revenue over 10 years include limiting tax deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent and ending corporate tax breaks for profit offshores. But their most pressing concern is that Congress won't reach a deal within the next week.

"Why on Earth are we talking about instituting these cuts if Congress doesn't get it together within the next week to do something about this?" McCoy said.

Robbie Akhere, a healthcare activist and organizer who sometimes works with Action NC, helped bring the concerned citizens to the Social Security office. She said she knew of at least 100 people who would have come if they had the transportation.

"These people realize that, just because they're senior citizens, that doesn't mean they are just waiting around. They want to stand up and work towards making a difference," said Akhere.

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