GLEN ROSE - Brace yourselves Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries, because you will not see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in your benefits for 2016.
Since COLA was enacted by Congress in 1975, this is only the third time - the first in 2010 and second in 2011- that there hasn’t been an increase in benefits. Social Security recipients received a 1.7-percent COLA increase in 2015, 1.4 percent in 2014 and 1.7-percent increase in 2013.
According to the official Social Security website, the reason for COLA not being adjusted was due to a decline in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which measures the price changes of food, housing, transportation, energy, healthcare, recreation and education.
The Labor Department reported that the index dropped by 0.4-percent in the time frame that the government calculated the annual COLA increase.
By law, benefits increase with the rise of inflation. With the drop in gas prices the government announced that inflation has remained low. Therefore, benefits would remain the same for 2016.
The Social Security Administration said this decision will affect nearly 65 million Americans, who receive Social Security and SSI benefits. Recipients who receive Social Security benefits are retired workers, disabled workers, non-disabled widow(er)s, spouses of retired workers, and children of deceased workers.
SSI is funded by general tax revenues and is provided to recipients that have little or no income and are aged, blind or disabled. In 2015, the average monthly payment for a retired beneficiary was $1,335. A disabled beneficiary received $1,165 per month.
Social Security is the major income source for the elderly population. Nine out of ten people aged 65 or older receive benefits. Groups who advocate for seniors say that the CPI-W index is an unfair measure of Social Security benefits, because the spending patterns between working individuals and retirees, who usually spend more on medical care and drive less, are vastly different.
Local retirees and Social Security beneficiaries are feeling the pinch of being on a fixed income. Without an increase in benefits, times will continue to be tight for them.
Retiree Donna Vineyard, who receives both a teacher’s retirement pension and Social Security, said that between rent, utilities and other expenses her funds are depleted every month, and to get by every month budgeting is a necessity.
Local resident, Ann Rhodes doesn’t spend on anything unnecessary and budgets her money to try to make it last for the month.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) has introduced a bill that would amend the current law and require the use of the Consumer Price Index for Elderly (CPI-E) rather than the CPI-W when calculating the annual COLA for people who receive Social Security. The bill would guarantee that seniors receive a minimum 3-percent COLA increase every year, even if the CPI-E falls below that amount.
“The government needs a new approach – one that recognizes the reality of rising costs in many areas, especially health care, that are putting pressure on American seniors,” Rep. Engel said in a statement shortly after the announcement. “It is absolutely outrageous and disgraceful that our seniors are suffering because we continue to use an antiquated formula to determine cost of living increases.”
Although, three percent isn’t a lot, Vineyard stated that any increase would help. Rhodes echoed that sentiment as well and added “anything is better than nothing.”
Healthcare and its related spending expenses are things that increase with age. Usually seniors have their Medicare Part B (medical insurance) premiums deducted directly from their Social Security checks.
In 2015, elderly and disabled Medicare recipients paid $104.90 per month for Part B premiums. Most Medicare recipients receive a premium-free Part A (hospital insurance), as long as they paid Medicare taxes while working. Those who had to purchase Part A paid $407 per month in 2015.
Local retiree, Tommy Phillips, stated that when there is an increase in his funds he can’t tell a difference, because of the high price of the Medicare premiums that are taken out of his check each month.
When the announcement was made in October that COLA would not be increased, it was unknown if Medicare premiums would increase for the new year.
Just recently the Department of Health and Human Services announced that Part B premiums would increase by $16.90 bringing the total cost to $121.80 per month. However, due to COLA not being increased the majority of people who get Social Security will continue to pay the 2015 rate.
According to Medicare, the price will only increase for those who are enrolling in Medicare for the first time, don’t receive Social Security, have Medicare and Medicaid and Medicaid pays the premiums, or if their modified adjusted gross income from their 2014 IRS tax return is above $85,000. Part A will increase by $4 to $411 per month.
If you need help navigating Social Security and Medicare you can visit the government’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov. You can create an account, which will allow you to review your earning history, estimated benefits and other services. If you would like to speak with someone in person you can visit a Social Security field office.