- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

The NAACP yesterday began a campaign to tell the black community that President Bush’s proposed private accounts would threaten a system they need and planned several public meetings in cities across the country.

Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his group stepped in because Mr. Bush has been promoting his proposal in part by telling blacks that the current Social Security system is skewed against their community because they have a shorter life expectancy than whites and receive less in retirement benefits for their taxes.

“Racial issues are being used as support for the president’s program,” Mr. Shelton said, pledging to use “everything in our arsenal” to combat the Bush proposal.

“African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed,” Mr. Bush said at a Social Security event Jan. 11.

NAACP leaders yesterday said private accounts are risky and would drain money from the Social Security system their community relies on, not only for retirement benefits but also for survivor and disability benefits. They said one out of every three blacks over 65 counts Social Security as the only source of income, and one in 16 black children receives a monthly Social Security check.

Mr. Bush should focus on correcting health care and other disparities, NAACP officials said. They cited a 2003 Government Accountability Office report that found blacks and Hispanics have higher disability rates and lower lifetime earnings so they get greater Social Security benefits on the whole than do whites.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy reiterated yesterday that the current Social Security system does penalize those who die before retirement. He also said Mr. Bush has “a comprehensive plan that has greatly improved health, education, homeownership and economic opportunity for all Americans, including blacks.

“Likewise, saving Social Security and creating voluntary personal accounts will help all future workers build a real nest egg so they can enjoy a better retirement and pass on savings to their heirs,” Mr. Duffy said.

NAACP interim President Dennis Courtland Hayes said that, because the administration never mentions the disability and survivor portions of Social Security benefits, they may be next in line to be changed or eliminated.

Mr. Duffy said the White House proposal does not endanger such benefits.

“The president has made clear that disability benefits will not be touched as a part of any reform plan,” Mr. Duffy said.

Survivors benefits may actually be boosted, he said, because personal accounts — unlike current benefits — could be handed down to heirs.

In addition to meetings on college campuses in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta, Columbia, Mo., and Washington, NAACP members are being urged to contact lawmakers. Mr. Shelton said paid advertisements are “quite possible” as part of the campaign.

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