Seniors face second year without Social Security increase

Losing a cost-of-living raise in 2011 for the second straight year will affect some Social Security recipients more than others.

Regardless, many seniors agree it won’t help.

“Boy, that’s a bummer,” said Carver Van Hemert, 88, of Kenmore, visiting the Edmonds Senior Center on Monday.

“The people causing most of our problems are taking our raises,” he said of Congress. “They need more yachts. Geez, isn’t that a crime?”

This year’s Congress did not decide to withhold the cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. Rather, the increases are automatically set each year by an inflation measure that was adopted by Congress back in the 1970s.

Some Social Security recipients are philosophical about the loss.

“I don’t mind,” said Joyce Johnston, 76, of Edmonds, also visiting the senior center. “It doesn’t amount to all that much.”

The average Social Security benefit is about $1,072 a month.

Losing the adjustment for 2011, after losing it in 2010, marks only the second year without an increase since automatic increases for inflation were adopted in 1975.

Based on inflation so far this year, the board of trustees which oversees Social Security expects to make the decision official Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases inflation estimates for September.

If the Social Security program needs to save money by withholding the increases, Johnston said, then so be it.

Still, for recipients, “every little bit counts,” said Joy Denton, 77.

“I think (no increase) is not a good deal for those who depend on it,” said Bob Brown, 72, of Lynnwood.

Social Security was the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees who got benefits in 2008, according to the Social Security Administration. A third relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.

In 2008, Social Security kept almost 36 percent of older Americans out of poverty. In Washington, about 30.4 percent of the state’s 65-and-over population were kept out of poverty because of Social Security, according to numbers compiled by AARP Washington.

In Snohomish County in 2009, 92,585 people received some type of Social Security payment, including 61,245 retired workers, according to the Social Security Administration.

People with disabilities, along with spouses, widows, widowers and children, also receive benefits.

In Washington state, more than 1 million people received Social Security benefits in 2009, according to AARP’s numbers. Nationwide, a little more than 58.7 million people receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income.

AARP plans to ask Congress for some type of relief, with the details yet to be determined, said Jason Erskine, spokesman for AARP Washington.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time,” he said, with older Americans hurting as a result of rising costs for utilities and food, along with declining housing values, retirement account losses and higher costs for health care and prescription drugs.

Social Security recipients got a one-time bonus payment of $250 in the spring of 2009 as part of the government’s massive economic recovery package. President Barack Obama lobbied for another one last fall when it became clear seniors wouldn’t get an increase in monthly benefit payments in 2010.

Congress took up the issue, but Senate Republicans, along with 12 Democrats and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, voted down the second bonus payment.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Who gets Social Security?

In 2009, more than 1 million people in Washington state received some type of Social Security payment.

Included were:

• 698,822 retirees

• 150,080 people with disabilities

• 80,041 widows and widowers

• 70,475 children

• 49,621 spouses

Source: AARP Washington

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