"Good morning, I am Congressman Bob Etheridge from Harnett County, N.C.. Today I'm pleased to discuss the importance of Social Security in our rural communities.

"Social Security represents the best of America's values. It is a promise to Americans who work hard and play by the rules, that they will be able to retire with decency and dignity. Today, Social Security keeps nearly 50 percent of seniors out of poverty. It also protects the almost 15 million Americans who become disabled and families who suffer the loss of a breadwinner.

"But in recent months, Social Security and the benefits that American workers have earned have come under attack. President Bush is proposing a plan to privatize Social Security and dramatically cut guaranteed benefits.

"Protecting the promise of Social Security is important to every worker, to every generation, and to every family. But, it is especially important to our farm families and rural communities.

"My congressional district is full of small towns and rural communities you've probably never heard of. Folks in places like Micro, Mamers, Spout Springs, or Archer's Lodge are not usually foremost in the debate in Washington, D.C. on issues like Social Security. But they should be. These hard-working, God-fearing Americans pay into Social Security with each and every paycheck. And when they sit at the kitchen table to plan for their retirement, they count on getting the Social Security benefits they have earned.

"I am a part-time farmer myself, and I have lived in rural North Carolina for all of my life. I know how much my neighbors depend on Social Security in their golden years. Farm families have tight budgets, and most don't have access to employer retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans. In fact, three out of four farmers fund their own retirement. They depend on Social Security when the crop yield is low or the weather is bad.

"Rural Americans usually are older and more likely to rely on the Social Security benefits they have earned. And a new study shows that folks in rural communities depend on Social Security income nearly twice as much as those in other areas.

"Take my mother-in-law, for example. She lives in rural North Carolina and relies on her monthly Social Security check to help pay her bills. Across the country, women like her find it harder to make ends meet than most other Americans. Under privatization, thousands of women like my mother-in-law would tragically fall into poverty.

"The President's plan to dismantle Social Security betrays small town Americans and the thousands of rural families who depend on it. Rural Americans need to read the fine print in President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Instead of standing up for our rural communities and our values, the President's Social Security plan cuts benefits and jeopardizes the most important safety net in rural areas for retirees, survivors, and the disabled.

"My Democratic colleagues and I are fighting to defeat Social Security privatization and to protect Social Security for the long haul. This week, I was proud to help launch Rural Americans for a Secure Future, a new coalition that will be traveling the country to educate rural Americans on the importance of Social Security and the harmful effects of privatization.

"Rural Americans deserve better, and they should not be taken for granted. They are independent-minded people who don't care about playing politics. What they do care about are results and leaders who are willing to stand up for them.

"I am Congressman Bob Etheridge, and today I stand up with my Democratic colleagues for rural America, and promise to protect their hard earned retirement savings. Thank you, and may God continue to bless America."