Labor union: Lame duck Congress could hurt social programs - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Labor union: Lame duck Congress could hurt social programs

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As Congress reconvenes Nov. 13, there are some things West Virginia's labor community wants them to keep in mind. In particular: social programs.

The AFL-CIO of West Virginia hosted a press conference Nov. 8 expressing its concerns about the lame duck Congress and what can and cannot be done before that Congress recesses for the final time. The union fears the passage of legislation by "lame duck" members of Congress, or those who were not re-elected, because those members do not fear repercussions. Of particular concern is the national deficit. Union leaders fear social programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Head Start, could be on the chopping block. Kenny Perdue, president of AFL-CIO West Virginia, said cutting those programs affects real people.

"These are the real faces and lives behind the statistics and sound bites," he said. "When you hear proposals about slashing Social Security or cutting Medicare, it isn't an abstract concept to these hardworking West Virginians, and thousands just like them, who will suffer."

Hattie Johnson, Jacqueline Jones, Wayne Rebich and Jack Tincher discussed how cutting social programs would impact them. Johnson, a Union Carbide retiree who now works as a home health nurse, talked about how cutting Medicare would impact her patients. She said those possible cuts have her "real alarmed."

"Lives literally depend on these benefits," she said. "My patients depend on Medicare, which they paid into their entire working lives, to ensure they have the care and help they require to live independently and not in a nursing home."

Rebich, of Beaver, is a retired construction worker and member of the Affiliated Construction Trades. He said the threat to Social Security motivated him to speak out. He questioned how people who work physically demanding jobs, such as construction work or coal mining, could be expected to work longer if the Social Security age is raised.

"I've worked in the construction trades my entire life," he said. "I'm worried about the Social Security retirement age being raised because people whose jobs involve hard labor can't work into their late 60s. It's not physically possible."

Federal funds benefit many West Virginians. A recent report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy found that more than 20 percent of state residents depend on federal benefits for personal income.