House lawmakers to propose emergency 3% Social Security cost-of-living adjustment

Personal finance

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The Social Security Administration announced this week that the cost-of-living adjustment for benefits in 2021 will be 1.3%.

For the average retirement benefit, that amounts to just a $20 increase per month.

Now, two Congressional Democrats — Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and John Larson, D-Conn. — plan to propose a bill to raise that to a 3% emergency increase next year.

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“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, seniors are facing additional financial burdens in order to stay safe,” DeFazio said in a statement. “This absolutely anemic COLA won’t even come close to helping them afford even their everyday expenses, let alone those exacerbated by Covid-19.”

The bill, currently titled the Emergency Social Security COLA for 2021 Act, is scheduled to be introduced on Friday.

The 1.3% raise for 2021 is the second lowest increase in the program’s history. The lowest increase occurred in 2017, when benefits went up just 0.3%. In 2010, 2011 and 2016, the COLA was zero.

The average COLA increase since 2010 has been 1.4%. But from 1999 to 2009, the annual increases averaged 3%, according to research from The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan advocacy group for older Americans.

“Raising the COLA to 3% for 2021 will provide seniors with an immediate, crucial lifeline during the ongoing coronavirus crisis,” DeFazio said. “It’s also critically important that Congress provide a permanent fix to the COLA formula that actually reflects the real costs that seniors face.”

Separately, both lawmakers are also advocating for changing the measurement used to calculate the annual increases.

Currently, the SSA uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W.

That index focuses on costs workers 62 and younger pay, and therefore doesn’t take into account the rising costs retirees face, particularly when it comes to health care.

Both DeFazio and Larson each have proposed changing the measurement to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E, in other bills.

The lawmakers’ call for an emergency COLA was endorsed by several senior advocacy groups, including The Senior Citizens League, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and Social Security Works.

“Social Security’s automatic cost-of-living adjustment is one of its most valuable features, even more so in the middle of a pandemic,” Social Security Works president Nancy Altman said in a statement. “But due to an inadequate measure, Social Security’s modest benefits are eroding.

“Congress should immediately pass their legislation, which will boost the economy and save lives.”

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