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Elderly on no-frills budgets say there's no room for income cuts

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Living on a social security check and a $32-a-month pension keeps Margaret Saul above the poverty line, but not by much. Miss Saul, a retired secretary who lives in Sunnyside, Queens, gets around $8,000 a year. The problem is making the monthly payments stretch.

``I'm lucky I have a neighbor who has money,'' says Miss Saul. ``I often have to borrow $20 from her at the end of the month.''

Her friend, Rose Kryzak, agrees.

``A lot of my friends say the months last too long,'' says Mrs. Kryzak. Both Miss Saul and Mrs. Kryzak testified at a hearing of the congressional Select Committee on Aging held in Astoria yesterday. The topic was the potential impact of a proposed cap on cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for social security benefits.

The recent Reagan administration and Senate Republican proposal to reduce the annual social security COLAs just doesn't make a lot of sense to Miss Saul. There is very little room for frills in her life.

``After the rent is paid, and the utility and telephone bills are paid, I have to make up my budget for food, medical bills ... and any extras, such as shoes and clothing,'' she said at the hearing. ``It becomes a game of put and take -- if I need one item, I have to forgo another.''

``When I go into [Manhattan] with a friend, it means I don't buy hamburger for a week,'' she said in an interview the day before the hearing.

Several hundred senior citizens attended the hearing in Queens, chaired by Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D) of California, chairman of the committee on aging, and freshman Rep. Thomas J. Manton, in whose district it was held.

Mr. Manton's district has the 12th-largest population of senior citizens of the 435 congressional districts. More than 11 percent of the people over 65 in the district live at or below the poverty level, according to 1980 Census Bureau statistics, says an aide to Manton.

``It's rough,'' says Joseph Sheean, adding that spiraling costs of everyday things means he has to do with less and less. His purchasing power is now limited, and he expects it would be worse under any proposed cap. Certain foods like orange juice are a luxury, Mr. Sheean says.

Mrs. Kryzak says she is more fortunate than most. Both she and her husband worked all their lives, and they have comfortable pensions in addition to social security. But she has many friends who are struggling.


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