Debt negotiations leaves local Social Security recipients in limbo

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- President Obama and congressional leaders were back at it again Wednesday, trying to reach an agreement on raising the nation's debt limit. The President said billions of dollars in social security, veteran, and disability checks could be in jeopardy.

Time is running out, as Democrats and Republicans remain sharply divided over the issues of taxes and spending. Many in East Tennessee are worried how this could affect the people who rely on their monthly checks, if they don't go out on August 3.

The battle over the debt limit continues in Washington DC, but here at home some are hoping the debate won't impact them, but if a decision isn't reached in time, the funds many rely on to get by every month, may not be there in just three weeks.

70-million checks go out every month nationwide, for social security, veterans, and disability. President Obama told CBS News Tuesday, "I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd."

President Obama says that's because lawmakers have not reached an agreement on the nation's debt limit, but to retiree Ralph Wolfenbarger, the wrong people will be impacted by on-going debates.

Ralph said, "I worked 40 years for the same company," as he reads the newspaper at the O'Connor Senior Center in Knoxville. "So, now you want to take that away," he says of the funds he's earned through social security.

Ralph says he's lucky to have other finances every month if his social security check doesn't come in three weeks, but some of his friends at the senior center won't be so lucky.

Misty Hagy Goodwin is the Senior Manger for Project LIVE, at the Office on Aging. She said, "Most of their checks are less than a thousand dollars per month. It would be just absolutely devastating for them, they already struggle, they haven't had a cost of living increase in two years, and so everything else has gone up."

Misty helps area seniors find ways to keep up with their bills every month, and avoid homelessness. "We've really seen an increase just in the past years of seniors facing that, because they can't afford to stay in their homes, they can't afford the upkeep," she said.

They help between 150 and 200 seniors every month, and always have a waiting list. "And if this happens, I just don't know where they would go and what they would do. There's just not enough resources and housing out there to take folks with no income," she said.

The Social Security Administration says as of December, 1.2 million Tennesseeans get a check every month, and about 60% are retirees.

Ralph said, "Don't hurt the poor people, let's go after some that can afford the cuts, not the poor people." He added, "Why are we not talking about government retirements?"

Misty recommends taking a few steps to start saving money right now, in case there are no checks next month. She said, you can set the temperature higher at home, to save on your utility bill. She recommends coupons and sales to save on your groceries, and sign up for any supplemental services, such as food stamps. Ask your doctor if you can switch to generics to save on your medications. And, you may want to look into subsidized housing, if you're having trouble getting by every month.

The White House insists lawmakers must make a deal by next week, if there's any hope of passing it in time.

The U.S. actually hit its 14.3 trillion dollar debt limit back in May. Since then, treasury officials have been relying on accounting adjustments to keep the government operating.

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