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2019 Social Security benefits should rise, but checks may not

Written by Nancy Altman

As a result of inflation, people on fixed incomes find that their incomes decline in value over time.  One extremely important feature of Social Security is that its benefits are adjusted every year automatically to offset increases in inflation, so that the modest, but vital, benefits do not erode over time.  It is important to understand that these adjustments are not increases.  They are intended to simply allow people to tread water, to maintain their purchasing power.

Unfortunately, the government’s cost of living adjustment for Social Security is based on inflation experienced by workers and not by retirees and people with disabilities who are unable to work. Older people and people with disabilities have, on average, higher health care costs; those costs tend to rise considerably faster than overall inflation.  For that and other reasons, Social Security beneficiaries generally experience higher costs of living than workers, so Social Security adjustments are often inappropriately low.  Consequently, Social Security beneficiaries are not even treading water, but rather losing ground. Nevertheless, even inadequate adjustments are better than none.

The actual adjustment is not calculated until October, because it is based on the inflation rate of the third quarter of this year, which ends September 30, over the third quarter of last year.  Nevertheless, Social Security’s actuaries project at the end of each year their best estimate of what it will be.  For 2019, they have projected a cost of living adjustment of 2.4 percent, an average of about $32 more each month.  In recent months, though, the rate of inflation has increased, mainly as the result of increased oil prices.  Consequently, it looks like the adjustment might be higher than 2.5 percent – perhaps even as high as 3 percent.

That is good news for Social Security beneficiaries, many of whom have little or no other income.  The bad news is that millions of people likely will not experience that full increase; some may not see any increase at all and others might see a decline in their overall income, as the result of rising health care costs.

Most people with Medicare who receive monthly Social Security benefits have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted directly from those Social Security payments.  For these people, Congress has provided that the annual increase in the Medicare Part B premium must be no larger than the Social Security cost of living adjustment.

So, they can’t go below zero, and lose some of their Social Security benefits, but they can certainly see their cost of living adjustment go completely to health care costs.  For those who do not have their Medicare premiums deducted automatically from their Social Security benefits, they can, indeed, lose even more ground.

According to the most recent Medicare Trustees Report, average costs for Medicare Part B, the part covering doctors’ bills, is estimated to increase by $327 in 2019.  The average cost for Medicare Part D, insurance for prescription drug costs, is estimated to increase by $63.  That is a total increase of $390.  For those receiving a Social Security benefit of $15,000 – and tens of millions receive less than that — the adjustment will only add $375, if the 2019 Social Security adjustment is 2.5 percent.

This is unacceptable.  After a lifetime of work, Americans should have enough guaranteed Social Security to maintain their standards of living.  The solution is three-fold. First, Congress should enact a better, more accurate measure of inflation for people receiving Social Security benefits. In addition, benefits, which are modest, but vital, should be increased. Finally, Congress should improve Medicare by expanding it to cover such vital services as hearing aids, dental work, and vision care.  Premiums, co-pays, and deductibles should be eliminated.  And everyone should be covered.  Improved Medicare for All will improve the nation’s health outcomes while costing a fraction of what we pay today.

It is long past time to enact a more accurate cost of living adjustment for Social Security, expand its benefits, improve Medicare, and extend it to everyone.  That is profoundly wise policy.  It also represents the views of the vast majority of us.

If you want Congress to expand Social Security, please sign this petition.

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7 Comments

  • Sirs;
    In my case, my Social (In)Security NET benefits have not increased one penny for the last 4 – 5 years because of the increase in the Medicare deduction, so, my income, the main source of which is Social (In)Security, has, effectively, decreased. So, don’t tell me the Social (In)Security benefits are going up,because, they are, in essence, going down. When the benefits stays the same and prices for almost everything go up, the benefitee loses buying power.

    You now know why I refer to it as “Social (In)Security”!!!

    Have A Great One

  • …agh, missed one little technical item and when I clicked the “return” link my entire post (about 20 minutes) was lost. They need to have some form of “draft saving” function here like other forums and blogs have.

    I was attempting to make a point that it was not only Medicare premiums, but other expenses are often not covered by the pitiful increases we receive, which causes us to fall further and further behind. I also mentioned that they need to change the criteria on how these increases are calculated as Housing has become a major expense these days particularly since many more people find themselves as renters instead of homeowners and low/fixed income housing in many cities is at a critical shortage and the supporting budget is being threatened by cuts form the Feds.

    One of the other topics I mentioned was that what would be considered “poverty” in one region or state is different from another as teh level is based on an average (or mean?) of all 50 states regardless of economic differences. Cities on the west coast and East coast have a much higher living cost than say cities and towns in the Midwest or in the deep south. so what is considered an appropriate figure in say Shreveport LA, or Topeka KS, pretty much determines what the same in in Portland OR or San Diego CA is even though costs, for everything from housing, to services, to food, are steeper here. The 1,000$ a month as well as 18$ living cost increase I receive would go much further in depressed economic regions (primarily the rust belt and deep south) than it does where I live. Unfortunately the climate better for my health (the harsh winters and manic weather in the Midwest wreaks havoc on my arthritis while the oppressive heat and humidity in the south is just plain unhealthy) and amenities (like excellent transit and walkability factor) where I am are far more suitable for maintaining a more independent lifestyle which give me a more positive outlook than feeling isolated and/or stranded in some small rural town.

    I am still about a year from having to enroll in Medicare and have no idea what to cut from my budget to make up the 136$ monthly premium. My rent (which is about 50% of my monthly benefit even though it is considered “low income housing”) will not be reduced nor will my SNAP benefits (which over the last 14 months have been reduced by nearly 40%) will not be increased to compensate. My utilities total about 150$ a month for power, phone and net access. Those won’t be reduced to make up the shortfall either (if anything they will continue to increase).

    This is why we need Social Security to be expanded, as well as living cost adjustments more being more relevant (which also factor in rent and rent increases as more and more retirees are finding themselves among the ranks of renters rather than homeowners) to where one lives.

  • TIPS FOR FUTURE BENEFIT DISBURSEMENTS:
    1. use the RIGHT (honest) COLA for seniors;
    2. do NOT use 100% of each year’s meager COLA on Medicare hikes;
    3. Catch us up on all the recent years when the fraudulent COLA was used, so we are not lagging years behind inflation in benefits;
    4. Admit that it’s our self-funded pension fund, and get Congress’ filthy hands out of the till.

  • ALL retires should recieve at least 5% over the next 5 years just to catch up with inflation over the last ten years. They need to keep social security benifits secure and QUIT dipping into it for everything under the sun. and QUIT giving it to people who HAVE NOT EARN IT !!! Those of us who have paid in all our lives deserve better than what we are getting out of this..thanks for taking my comment. Mike

    • Sirs;

      The following is what I send to all requesting donations. It describes my situation and, I am sure, the situation of many others receiving Social (In)Security benefits.
      Until the idiots at Social {In}Security decide to give the retirees a substantial net benefit raise, which they have NOT done for the past 5 -6 years, there is NO WAY that I can contribute to anybody!!! My net income from them has stayed the same for the past 5 – 6 years. I depend on it as my MAJOR source of income, which means, my spendable income has been going down for the last 5 – 6 years. My rent has gone up by $20.00/year for, at least, that time, my car insurance keeps increasing, the cost of groceries keeps increasing, the costs of medication keeps increasing, almost all other of my expenses has been increasing, but, according to the a$$holes at the Social {In}Security Administration, who are, apparently, living on another planet, there is no inflation. Oh, right, they have raised the benefit by 1.5% to 2.5% per year, but, at the same time, have raised the Medicare by the same amount, which, effectively, cancels out that “benefit raise”. The seniors of this country, who rely on Social {In}Security, are being given the shaft, and have been for the last 5 – 6 years!!! So, GOOD LUCK in getting any contributions from us, and, realize that those seniors from whom you DO get contributions, are either rich or are giving you money they need to survive!!

      WHEN WILL THE POLITICIANS DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS HORRIBLE SITUATION?

      This is a problem ignored by BOTH parties!!!

      What are YOU doing to alleviate the situation?

      I am very tired of the politicians ignoring me and wish they would wake up to the situation caused, mainly, by them and do something to fix it!!!!!

      Have A Great One

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