Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Retired teachers & others hurt by high costs

In case anyone needed a reason for why we all must guard zealously the hard-won retirement benefits earned by educators and other public employees, this is a good one. The retired teacher mentioned in this editorial, titled "The New Dark Ages" in the Herald Independent, isn't named; I wish she were, so that we might direct more attention her way.

But her mention reminds us all to pay attention to those senior citizens in our communities who suffer at no fault of their own -- but at the apathetic hands of corporate interests and inattentive lawmakers -- after devoting their careers in service to others.

Everything costs more these days. That’s not exactly breaking news. Groceries, gasoline, clothing — and not least of all, electricity. Meanwhile, wages for the average American remain stagnant, meaning everyone, essentially, is on the proverbial “fixed income.”

On certain things, consumers can cut back (for example: consolidate trips in your vehicle, walk or take public transportation when possible to save on gasoline; put off buying that new dress; purchase food in bulk, etc.), but the one thing that constantly flows through the home is electricity. Old incandescent light bulbs can be replaced, appliances shut off when not in use, thermostats set to oppressive levels, but still, the juice is always flowing. On or off, if an appliance is plugged into the wall, it is drawing at least a small amount of electricity through the meter. In a developed nation in the 21st century, it is impossible to imagine a life without it.

Yet, right here in Winnsboro we have one recently publicized case of a retired school teacher doing just that — and not by choice. There may indeed be others in similar situations — residents on a fixed income who, for one reason or another, have been unable to keep up with the constant increase in utility costs. This is not, of course, to pass judgment on the Town of Winnsboro or to cast them in the role of cruel overlord, pulling the plug on sweet little old ladies. They are operating, in addition to a municipal government, a utility company; and as everyone knows, a company is in business to make money. Period.

On the other hand, a municipal government is in business to look after the welfare of its citizenry. It is hoped, therefore, that while the Left Hand of Winnsboro taketh away, the Right Hand may also giveth, and between the two a solution be forged. Perhaps something akin to waiving the reconnection fee, turning the power back on and setting up a reasonable payment plan would be in order.

Whatever the solution, something must be done. That much is clear. It should be done with careful consideration, however, as we imagine this will not be the last such case. Such is the future in a world where everything goes up except incomes.

Reckon Governor Nikki Haley picked up any advice on helping to care for retired public employees while on her recent visits to Munich, Paris or Manhattan? If not, maybe she'll ask other governors for advice when she sees them later this week in Aspen. Or inquire about how India treats its elderly when she visits that country in October. Surely someone can offer her some thoughts.

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