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Protesters stretch a red-and-white paper chain during their half-hour rally Tuesday.

Protesters oppose chains on benefits

Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Members of the Indiana Alliance for Retired Americans take part in a human chain Tuesday morning at the E. Ross Adair Federal Building to protest a proposal to restrain federal benefit payments.

– Two dozen people chanted Tuesday in opposition to a proposal for restraining federal benefit payments, including Social Security checks.

"It's time for us to just say no / Chained CPI has got to go.

"We're smart enough to see the lie / So don't you chain our CPI."

Stretching a red-and-white paper chain, the protesters stood for a half-hour outside the E. Ross Adair Federal Building, hoping to catch the attention of local staffs for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd.

Congress and the White House might consider adopting the chained Consumer Price Index as the inflation gauge for certain federal benefits. The chained CPI assumes that people buy less-expensive alternatives when prices increase for their preferred goods and services.

Tuesday's protest was among about 50 around the nation organized by the Alliance for Retired Americans, which says the chained CPI would trim the average Social Security check by $6,000 over 15 years.

Some demonstrators along South Harrison Street wore ARA T-shirts stating, "Let's not be the Last Generation to Retire."

A rant preceded their chant.

"They want to balance the budget on the backs of working people and retirees," local labor activist Randy Schmidt said about members of Congress.

"They say they need to cut Social Security to balance the budget, to deal with the deficit. Well, Social Security doesn't add a dime to the deficit," he said.

"The government has no business raiding your retirement fund," Schmidt said.

Tara DiJulio, Coats' communications director, said this week in an email that the Hoosier senator supports the chained CPI because it would "help ensure that mandatory spending programs are preserved for current and future generations."

Neither Stutzman nor Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has taken a public stance on the chained CPI.

Schmidt urged the protesters to support a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would boost Social Security benefits by about $800 a year for the typical recipient.

It would fund the increase by removing a roughly $114,000 cap on annual income taxed for the Social Security Trust Fund.

"All this talk that Social Security is going broke is a bunch of hooey. There is $2.7 trillion in the trust fund right now," Schmidt said.

As the morning rally ended, labor activist Dick Merren noted that the chained CPI also would apply to benefits paid to military veterans. Merren said he is encouraged that members of Congress have expressed opposition to the inflation yardstick.

"Their constituents are on their back and telling them no," he said in an interview.

Twenty-one senators and 114 members of the House – all of them Democrats or independents – have co-sponsored resolutions to prevent the use of the inflation measure when figuring federal benefits.

"You can't come out and tell the elder people, 'You created this country, and we love you, we respect you,' and at the same time back-door them," said Merren, 82.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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