Privatization raises concerns - Catholic Courier

Privatization raises concerns

Father Brian Cool, chairman of the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee, was talking about Social Security Aug. 12 outside the Fairport office of U.S. Rep. Randy Kuhl, when someone drove by and yelled “Keep your filthy hands off my money, you liberal (expletive)!”

Along with dozens of other demonstrators opposed to privatizing Social Security, Father Cool chuckled. However, the issue that concerned him — as well as his drive-by heckler — was a serious one, the future of Social Security.

Proponents of privatization want to allow citizens to earmark at least some of their Social Security money for investments in the stock market. They claim allowing citizens to do so will potentially bring a much higher rate of return on their Social Security payroll taxes than is allowed by the current system.

Yet opponents contend privatization could harm both those citizens who lose out in the stock market, and Social Security overall by destabilizing its funding stream.

Father Cool said his concern over privatization is rooted in the church’s concern for the common good.

“The gift of Social Security … is that it provides a basic level of support to the poor and the vulnerable, and I don’t think that we want to lose that by giving people options who might not understand the complexities of the stock market,” he said.

Father Cool was one of several area religious leaders invited that day by the activist group Metro Justice to voice their concerns over privatization proposals for Social Security. Metro Justice also organized a follow-up demonstration at a town meeting in Brighton Sept 19. The meeting was organized by Kuhl’s office, which has conducted several similar town meetings this year throughout the congressman’s 29th district. The district covers much of the Diocese of Rochester, including the counties of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates; most of Ontario County — excluding Geneva; and the southeastern portion of Monroe County.

Earlier this year, Kuhl had cosponsored with Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery a bill that would have allowed workers 55 and under to establish voluntary accounts from which funds could be invested in marketable Treasury bonds. The investments would have been made by a newly created Social Security Investment Board, and workers would have had the option of investing in other board-approved options, including municipal bonds or state bonds. Proponents of this bill contend it is not an example of privatization, but opponents say it is.

However, on Sept. 28, Kuhl announced that he was introducing in Congress a new Social Security reform bill — H.R. 3913 — that does not offer personal accounts.

Kuhl’s new bill prohibits Congress from spending any of the Social Security surplus on anything other than future Social Security benefits, according to Bob Van Wicklin, Kuhl’s deputy chief of staff. He added that he didn’t think the McCrery bill was going anywhere in Congress.

In a statement announcing his new bill, Kuhl noted that he drafted it in response to constituents’ concerns expressed at town meetings such as the one in Brighton.

“The new bill … is a result of the meetings I’ve held where people agree that we need to stop the raid on the surplus, but are uneasy about personal accounts as suggested by the McCrery bill I cosponsored this year,” Kuhl said.

Whatever the future of Social Security, Rosemary Rivera, a member of Metro Justice, said her group wants the public to know that religious leaders were instrumental in getting Social Security off the ground in 1935, and they are concerned for the program’s future. She noted that many religious groups — Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim — have released statements questioning privatization proposals.

On that note, Father Cool noted that in 1999 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document titled “A Commitment to All Generations: Social Security and the Common Good,” which said Social Security “reflects our commitment as a society to ensure a minimum level of security for all workers, their families and persons with disabilities.” The statement outlined the following five criteria, which the USCCB said it would use to evaluate proposals to reform social security:

* Changes in Social Security should not put at risk those individuals and families whose resources are already very limited.

* The disability and survivors’ portions of the Social Security program should remain linked to the retirement portion to ensure continuity of commitment to workers and their families in cases of disability and death.

* Any changes made in the tax structure should be weighted in favor of the poor. Those with lower incomes should bear less of the total Social Security tax burden than those who are more affluent.

* Benefit inadequacies with respect to the benefits received by some women should be remedied.

* Principles of equity and concern for the common good support bringing employees from all sectors of the economy into the Social Security program.

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