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home : opinion : columnists June 24, 2016

12/19/2012 3:09:00 PM
End the nigthmare
Dear Editor,

My life has become a nightmare in which people scream "No new taxes! Cuts! Cuts!" Their ire is directed at food stamp recipients and my friends are caught in the crossfire. Real people, with real stories, not the undeserving mob which the conservative media portrays.

Please if you know someone who is truly undeserving report them. This would be far better than the current situation in which people seem to be randomly dropped from these benefits. This happened to two of my friends within two months of qualifying for food stamps. The one who was ill and afraid of losing her Medicaid did not fight this cutoff (or if she did, it was unyielding). A year later she is dead due to her illness, so you can quit throwing stones at her. I touched base with a mutual friend: she was shocked to learn of the cutoff, "If anyone was deserving it was her," and shared that she worried that the delay between our friend's exhausting charitable care and her qualifying for Medicaid had resulted in her death. We'll never know. I had not known her long enough to know about that.

My longest friend recently shared with me that for the first time in her life at age 51 she now qualifies for food stamps. She is so embarrassed by her situation that she uses the self checkout line, "So the checker won't know".

This is my resourceful friend who encouraged me to come out to Washington without a job lined up, because "there are jobs to be had". That was before the price of housing skyrocketed. She was laid off from a lab job in 2008 and has never recovered.

Yes, she has work now (with a 5 a.m. start), so she no longer counts as unemployed, but it doesn't pay enough to pay the bills. At first she made up the difference from her retirement funds. Now she owes the IRS $1600 for this early withdrawal and they are breathing down her neck with an onerous payment plan. If she doesn't find better work soon she'll be swamped in penalties. Her work disqualifies her from a lot of help, but she does qualify for food stamps. When she too was randomly cut she successfully protested this cut.

I have a 3rd friend who is off food stamps now thanks to work teaching English in China. She is in her 70's and although she had faithfully paid into the system much of her life (up to 12.4 percent of her income as required by the social security payroll tax + 2.9 percent for Medicare), she never made enough money to qualify for much social security. Monthly payouts are proportional to what you pay in and so even as a retiree at age 70 she qualified for food stamps. So she's back to work trying to build a small savings against the day when she is too old to earn money.

Has anyone noticed how little attention is paid to the Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes? You would think from conservative rants that these taxes do not exist, yet they cover every penny of individual earned income up to $110,100. (The result is that those in the 25 percent and 28 percent income tax brackets who are below the $110,100 level actually pay the most taxes so you can quit boo-hooing about the high taxes which rich people supposedly pay.) There is no limit for the Medicare portion but this too only hits earned income. Monthly payouts are proportional to the amount paid in and there is a cap on monthly payouts, so this is fair, right?

Unfortunately, the system fails to take into account that poorer folks don't live as long, so in effect they are subsidizing those who are well off. The difference in life expectancy between the top half of income earners and the bottom half of income earners is 5.5 years at age 65 according to a study published by the Social Security Administration in 2007. It's even bigger (5.8 years) at age 60 and the increase in the difference is because more poor folks die before they even qualify for social security. This difference is quite strikingly demonstrated if you look at my two sisters who both have earned above the $110,100 cap. Our grandmothers died at 103 and 107 so they could end up collecting far more than they put in, thanks to a very high high life expectancy combined with the social security tax limit.

They have earned a great salary thanks to their intelligence (they're smart enough not to take all the credit for that) and they can tell that the current system is crazy. They never asked for a tax cut and they wish Congress would raise their taxes. So yes, they contributed to Obama and various liberal causes at which conservatives would probably cringe.

One sister was laid off with a year's severance pay at age 36 during the 1990's. During this time she acquired a taste for leisure and although she dabbled in real estate and travel agent work she found that she could live quite comfortably just managing her own money. High taxes did not encourage her to retire early, if anything it was the fact that taxes were so low both on her income and even more so on capital gains, that allowed her to retire so early. Was she a job creator while she worked? No, I can't say so, it seems more likely that the slave wages of international garment workers allowed her company to pay her a lavish salary, which of course didn't seem so lavish while she lived in New York City.

We pledge allegiance to "one nation under God indivisible." Has everyone forgotten the indivisible part as we set the rich against the poor? Yes, cuts are still possible and many of those need not target the poor. Has anyone heard of ethanol subsidies? Of course that's just a drop in the bucket, but if those drops spare my friends, then they are worth making. In the meantime I am tired of Republican intransigence to raising taxes on the rich who are not paying the most taxes thanks to their exemption from the social security tax. Call up Congressmen Hastings and Reichert. Tell them to dump the Grover Norquist pledge. End my nightmare. Please.

Jenny Mullins


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