By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

Thousands of petitions have been delivered to Montana’s congressional delegation–all carrying the message that cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits isn’t in the state’s best interest.

The petition drive and delivery were organized by AARP Montana. State director Joy Bruck says talk of cuts has many Montanans nervous in light of typical senior incomes of about $13,000 a year coupled with rising health-care and living expenses.

“All of these things are the reasons that people were not only very willing to sign these petitions, but truly want their voice heard.”

More than 5,200 Montanans signed the petitions. The “super committee” on which Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., sits on is due to send deficit-reduction recommendations to Congress next week.

Medicare isn’t free for those using the coverage, Bruck says; they pay premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses, and the average Social Security benefit for a Montana retiree is about $1,000 a month.

“The other thing is, is Social Security is an earned benefit–it’s not a freebie. They call it an entitlement, and that always says to me ‘you’re getting something for nothing,’ and you’re really not. You’ve put into it all your working life.”

The petitions, Bruck says, encourage looking at ways to reduce fraud and wasteful spending in Medicare to help balance the budget.