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Local News

Seniors in Pennsylvania are concerned about Social Security following Trump’s comments

Patricia Ford of Philadelphia speaks at a press conference about the importance of Social Security (Credit: Biden campaign)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 17, 2024

Patricia Ford of Philadelphia, 72,  remembers a time in the not-too-distant past when politicians would barely discuss Social Security, much less threaten to make cuts, because it didn’t make sense: Senior citizens, many of whom rely on Social Security income, are considered reliable  voters, and would respond at the voting booth.

“I think about the possibility of cuts to Social Security, and it’s just so ridiculous,” Ford told the Capital-Star. She said she’s worked since age 16, and doesn’t want her children to have to take care of her, that she should be able to take care of herself. “If this issue was brought up and talked about over and over, I believe a lot of seniors would come out to vote.”

She said she was not entirely surprised, however, to learn that former President Donald Trump had appeared to open the door to making cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security.  

“There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting, and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements,” Trump said in a March 11 interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box program. 

Trump and his campaign have since tried to reframe or walk back the comments, saying the former president was focused on “cutting waste.” Trump gave an interview on Thursday to conservative news outlet Breitbart where he said “I will never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt Social Security or Medicare.”

But in the time between, the Biden campaign mobilized voters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, including Ford, for press conferences where seniors and other recipients of Social Security benefits spoke about what cuts to the program would mean for them. Ford attended a press conference with Rep. Steven Kinsey (D-Philadelphia) in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. 

“I am a recipient of Medicare and Social Security. I can guarantee you, all of my working life, my husband and I contributed to those two programs with the hope and belief that we would be able to benefit from them when it was our time to retire,” Mary Lou Alsentzer of Lancaster said during a Wednesday press conference in Harrisburg.  “We cannot allow Donald Trump to take away one more thing. We the people have to stand up.” 

William Byrnes, a senior citizen and Social Security recipient who lives in Wilkes-Barre, said during a Tuesday press conference in Luzerne that he started paying into the Social Security system when he was a teenager in 1966.

“One of the things that my wife and I dread is that one medical quote that can wipe you out,” Byrnes said. “Donald Trump has a history of stiffing the people who work for him, it’s completely in character for him to be stiffing the American people on the benefits that we have contributed to and paid for out of the labor of our lifetime.” 

The Biden campaign also pointed to Trump’s previous statements, including during his presidency, when he suggested entitlements like Social Security were on the table. In August 2020, Trump said he would make permanent a temporary pandemic-era pause on the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare if he were re-elected. And even earlier, in a 2000 book Trump authored called “The America We Deserve,” he referred to Social Security as a “huge Ponzi scheme.”

Even before Trump’s recent comments, Social Security was already on Democrats’ political radar. During his March 7 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden made clear he would seek to prevent any attempts to reduce entitlement programs. 

“If anyone here tries to cut Social Security or Medicare, or raise the retirement age, I will stop you,” Biden said.

In a swing state like Pennsylvania, where 20% of the population is 65 or older, a suggestion of cutting Social Security would seem to be politically unwise. 

“More than 2 million Pennsylvanians rely on Social Security and Medicare, and Donald Trump wants to leave them with fewer benefits and instead give away more tax cuts to his wealthy friends and big corporations,” Pennsylvania state Rep Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) said at the Harrisburg press conference on Wednesday.

Ford said she looked up the history of Social Security and discovered a word she wasn’t familiar with in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1934 message to Congress about the program. “He said it was a social insurance that was a safeguard against the hazards and ‘vicissitudes’ of life,” she said. “That means a hardship and something that happens out of your control. The seniors put in the work, this is something that is theirs, that is owed to them. It’s theirs just as if they’re going to work every day.”

Ford will celebrate her 73rd birthday in November, the day after Election Day. She said she hopes seniors  see Trump’s comments on Social Security as a wake up call to show up at the polls. “I hope that enough people turn out that it isn’t a matter of if we get a few votes over here, get a few votes over there,” she said. “It needs to be a total landslide.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.