Finance Retirement

Inadequate Social Security Cola: Most Important Issue Facing Seniors

In a recent poll by the nonprofit TREA Senior Citizens League, seniors ranked their need for a fair and realistic Social Security cost-of-living increase far more critical to them than the new Medicare drug benefit, or even the ability to import medicine at lower costs from abroad.

This comes as no surprise to other seniors.

The most recent Social Security cost-of-living increase was only 4.1 percent, an average of $39 a month. Yet home heating, gasoline, insurance, even your Medicare Part B premiums have jumped in price by double digits.

Social Security CartoonMedicine, Congress assured us, would be more affordable under the new Medicare Part D. But prescription drugs, too, are higher by double digits. (What did Congress think would happen when they made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate prices, thus allowing pharmaceutical companies to set prices as high as they want?)

Meanwhile, our Republican Congress complains about senior “entitlements.” They moan that our greed leaves hardly anything for political pork, corporate welfare, and war.

Suddenly Senior reader Patricia Gonzales moans, too. She writes:

I challenge each and every politician in Washington to live on my income of $680 a month during their rein in office. Let them feel the despair the ‘little person’ feels attempting to manage utilities, rent, food, insurance, medications, etc.

Fat chance, Patricia!

In January, your Congressman and mine gave themselves yet another pay raise, this time $3,100, raising their annual salary to $165,200. That’s $157,040 more than you earn, Pat. That gap makes Congress impervious to your financial hardships. They can no more relate to your problems than a robin to a worm.

Fairness Good for Business

Our Social Security is one of the least generous public pension systems around. While the average employee in Europe gets a government pension of 70 percent of after-tax earnings at retirement, we get a miserly half of that. Other countries find that, besides fairness, it’s simply good for business to give retirees a pension that can be lived on comfortably.

But our Congress will have none of it. Too busy selling their souls for campaign money, Republicans and Democrats alike have little time to concern themselves with the likes of us.

Yet as Floridian, Jack Walters, wrote me when the new COLA was announced late last year:

Down here where I live, my electric bill just increased 40 percent with another 11 percent approved an increase for January. Gas is up 50 percent from last year. Heating oil up 31 percent. Natural gas, 24 percent. Then there’s November’s telephone increase of 24 percent, housing up 21 percent, garbage fees up 22 percent, and healthcare up God-knows-what. Double-digit homeowners insurance increases. Health insurance up as much as 33 percent. Washington expects a 4.1 percent increase to cover this?

Hey, Jack, it beats 2005’s 2.7 percent.

There is another way.

For years Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s lone Congressman now running for Senate, sponsored bills to establish a Social Security consumer price index computing cost-of-living increases typical for individuals aged 62 years or older. Instead of basing the COLA on goods and services that younger workers use, this CPI-E [Elderly] would more realistically address seniors’ dramatically increasing outlays for pharmaceuticals, supplemental healthcare premiums, phone bills, fuel, insurance, even residential rent – all of which slam us hardest.

But like this session’s “The Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act” [H.R. 3601] unto which 108 members of Congress have signed, the majority party buries them, usually in committee.

If we were under the computation of the CPI-E, we’d each be getting a benefit about $55 per month higher this year. Not enough to dent the Treasury, but certainly extra help for the millions of Patricia Gonzales struggling out there.

How can we get Congress to pay attention?

It won’t happen until we force public financing of electoral campaigns, compelling politicians’ attention from rich corporate patrons and their lobbying lackeys back to those who elect them.

This is the biggest challenge America faces today. Public finance of elections is the only road back to true democracy. It is a road we must force upon our politicians or be damned for losing democracy in this great country under our watch.

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