‘I didn’t have as many concerns then as I do now’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 7, 2000

Josephine Webster didn’t think much about political campaigns or the issues surrounding them when she first started to vote.

&uot;I am more involved than I was when I&160;was younger,&uot; said Webster, now a retired teacher living in Vidalia. &uot;But then again, I didn’t have as many concerns then as I do now.&uot;

Those concerns now include the future of Social Security and Medicare — and Webster isn’t alone. &uot;Most seniors are concerned with health care, Medicare and prescription drug costs,&uot; said Joel Parker of Vidalia. &uot;I’ve got other insurance, fortunately.&uot;

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Locally, as well as nationwide, senior citizens believe that those issues, along with the rising cost of prescription drugs, should be the issues today’s presidential candidates address first.

Don’t cut our money

&uot;Social Security needs to be addressed and stabilized, first of all,&uot; said Clarence Hymon of Ferriday.

Hymon works part time and lives with his wife on a fixed income but pointed out that he still has the same living expenses — home maintenance, for one thing — that full-time workers do.

&uot;We’ve had to draw from our retirement savings to fix up our house, which is 38 years old,&uot;&160;Hymon said. &uot;We need something that will help us to secure our incomes and allow us to meet all of our bills.&uot;

Others expressed fear that the new president will make major changes in Social Security and cause it to go bankrupt.

&uot;Leave Social Security alone. Right now, it’s secure,&uot;&160;said Jesse Speed of Ferriday, adding that if big changes are made, future generations could feel the financial pinch even more.

&uot;Don’t cut our (Social Security) money, because that’s all we live off of,&uot; said Ethel Beverly of Ferriday. &uot;A lot of people are in the same situation.&uot;

&uot;Social Security is very important to me,&uot; Joe Slay, 66, of Natchez said.

A retiree of Sears, Slay’s monthly social security check is based on the wages of his working years — an amount that seems less and less everyday.

&uot;What concerns me is inflation is going up and Social Security is staying the same,&uot; he said.

Slay said he often feels &uot;stuck&uot; between collecting a meager social security check or going back to work at a low-paying, part-time job.

&uot;It’s a mess for us old people,&uot; he said.

At the same time, Slay said he worries for the younger generation, who are paying into the nation’s retirement fund only to have it eaten away by aging Baby Boomers.

Bob McWilliams, who &uot;just celebrated his Medicare birthday,&uot; said he is watching closely how Congress will decide to tax social security benefits that exceed the maximum deductible.

Living on a fixed income, McWilliams said he is not sure how a change in the tax laws will affect his lifestyle, but &uot;nobody likes to pay more taxes.&uot;

While McWilliams said he is &uot;blessed&uot; to have private health insurance from his former employer, Medicare remains one of the most crucial issues for many local senior citizens.

A big problem

Hymon said he is forced to carefully manage his 91-year-old mother’s finances to get her into the program so they can afford nursing home care.

&uot;You can’t own anything,&uot; Hymon said. &uot;You have to become poor to get into Medicare. Otherwise, you can’t afford the $80 a day that long-term care costs. I’m not advocating doling out money — but assistance is needed.&uot;

&uot;Taking care of medical bills is a big issue, and some seniors don’t qualify for help,&uot; Webster said. &uot;Combine that with the fact that many older people now have the expense of taking care of their grandchildren, and it all gets to be a big problem.&uot;

This is not to say, however, that senior citizens do not have many of the same concerns that younger voters do. For example, some said the issue of how the budget surplus should be used is on their minds in the weeks leading up to the election.

&uot;They’re saying they’re going to use part of it to give affordable prescription drugs to senior citizens, but they also ought to preserve Medicare and Social Security,&uot;&160;said Sidney Murray of Vidalia. &uot;Then again, some say you ought to use it to give tax refunds.&uot;

&uot;Everybody paid the taxes, and everybody should get a refund,&uot; said Doris Talley of Vidalia.

Others were concerned about the quality of education, law enforcement and national defense.

Story by Democrat staff writers Nita McCann and April Wortham. They can be reached via e-mail at nita.mccann@natchezdemocrat.com or april.wortham@natchezdemocrat.com.