About 3,200 seniors and labor union members from Massachusetts and other Northeast states filled the Wang Theatre downtown yesterday to protest potential cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, programs being considered in the drive to reduce the federal deficit.
More than 70 organizations took part in the event, including some from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York. Organizers, who raised money to rent the hall, said it was the largest such rally of its kind.
“There has not been this level of turnout to fight for retirement issues and, really, for jobs,’’ said Jason Stephany, communications director for MassUniting, a community advocacy coalition and one of the groups behind the event. “This was a historic and unprecedented event in Boston.’’
Participants said they are becoming increasingly worried as the Nov. 23 deadline nears for the so-called congressional supercommittee, which includes Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit.
One proposal - to cut $112 billion from Social Security - could be achieved by revising the way Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are determined or by reducing benefits outright.
There has also been talk of raising out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients and raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
“I’m 39, and at this rate I will not be able to retire until I’m 78,’’ said Veronica Turner, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, a health care workers union, who was at the Wang.
Following the event, protesters - some on foot, others on buses - went to the offices of Kerry and Senator Scott Brown to deliver “Stop the Cuts!’’ postcards. “If the senators and other elected officials don’t respond to us now, just wait until 3,200 turns into 30,000, and then, soon there will be 3 million and more fighting for this cause,’’ Stephany said.
Josephine Collins, 83, said she traveled from the Bronx to take part in the rally because some seniors can barely pay their rent, let alone afford prescriptions and necessary medical services. “We worked for our Social Security, so it’s not fair for others to cut it,’’ said Collins. “Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid took care of my mother. Those benefits are what kept her going, and I want them to be here for my grandkids.’’
Christina Reinwald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.