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Social Security Means $6 Billion-Plus a Year for West Virginians

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Friday, August 29, 2014   

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - At the ripe old age of 79, Social Security is helping West Virginia residents and the economy.

While pensions have changed, jobs have been lost and homes have lost equity, a quarter of folks in the state rely on Social Security benefits. As the program celebrates another birthday, federal figures show it brings almost $6.5 billion a year to West Virginia - nearly 10 percent of the state's total income.

Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said it's enough to keep more than 100,000 West Virginians out of poverty.

"West Virginia is one of the states where Social Security is really, really important. We have an older population, we've got a lot of retirees, and we have low income. And without that guarantee from Social Security, they can find themselves easily living in poverty."

Despite concerns about the program's solvency, O'Leary said it's facing only a modest shortfall in the future. This year's Social Security Trustees report projects the program can pay all benefits in full for nearly two decades, and three quarters of benefits after that.

Some Republicans in Congress are pressing to dismantle the program, citing the future shortfalls. But Eric Kingson, a distinguished fellow at Syracuse University and co-director of the group Social Security Works, said some of the fears are overblown. He said it really only needs minor changes - and likens it to road repairs.

"Like our highway system - occasionally you run into some bumps in the road, but you don't start talking about ripping up the system," he said. "But the folks who want to destroy it, who want to pull it part, they do start talking about, 'The sky is falling.' "

The wealthy only make Social Security payroll contributions on their first $117,000 of earnings. Kingson said having everyone pay the same rate would help close Social Security's projected funding gap. That suits American values as well, he said.

"Social Security is not about financing - that's the means," Kingson said. "The 'ends' is the well-being of the American people. And I think we all want a system where we all work hard together and provide this kind of protection."

A report from Social Security Works is online at socialsecurityworks.org.


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