Budget solution? Not my benefits, Manatee residents say

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 14, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County residents received almost $2.6 billion in 2011 from U.S. government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits and food stamps, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That amounts to 20 percent of the $13.3 billion in personal income in Manatee. Nationally, government benefits make up about 17.4 percent of personal income.

Sarasota County residents received more than $3.78 billion in government benefits, or 18 percent of the estimated $20.5 billion in personal income in 2011.

So are local residents willing to part with any of their benefits to help avert the national fiscal cliff? The short answer among those interviewed Thursday is: No way!

Marilyn Nash, 71, a retiree from Anna Maria Island who receives Social Security benefits, objects to the idea of cuts in the retirement program for seniors.

"They shouldn't cut Social Security," she said while taking time out from shopping at a Bradenton mall.

According to the Census

Bureau, 41.3 percent of Manatee households received Social Security benefits in the past 12 months.

"People on Social Security are having it tough enough; now that the economy has been bad, everything's gone up in price," Nash said. "It's the part of the population that needs the most help."

Asked where cuts should be made, Nash said she expects congressional representatives to sit down, compromise and figure it out together.

Pressed for a suggestion, she noted that elected officials and top bureaucrats make "ridiculous salaries," enjoy huge pensions and full health benefits, and should give some of it up to get the ball rolling.

Another Bradenton retiree, Donna Messer, was shopping with her friend, Sandra Bolles, a retired nurse from Bradenton.

Asked for their thoughts on the fiscal cliff, Messer said her generation had already paid during its working years for its Social Security and Medicare benefits.

"Cut Obamacare," she suggested, referring to the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece accomplishment of President Barack Obama's first term.

"Cut spending," Messer said.

Asked for specifics, Bolles suggested halting the purchase of airplanes sent to Egypt.

Bolles, who said she worked well into her 70s and is now retired and drawing Social Security benefits, is considering returning to work part-time to help make ends meet.

Other data showed that in the past 12 months, Manatee County residents received an estimated $1.13 billion in Social Security benefits; $717 million in Medicare benefits; $245.7 million in Medicaid benefits; $61.9 million in unemployment insurance compensation; and $73.3 million in veterans' benefits.

With a population of 327,142, Manatee's per capita personal income is $40,678; Sarasota County's population is 382,213, with a per capita personal income of $53,769, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, for whom protecting Medicare was a key issue in his recent re-election campaign, remains optimistic that the nation's financial difficulties can be resolved, said his spokesman, T.J. Tatum.

Spending is the issue, and requires "meaningful spending cuts," said Tatum, adding that for Buchanan, "Failure is not an option."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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