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Sour COLA

Seniors deal with no adjustment to Social Security benefits

November 1, 2009
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

Senior citizens who rely on Social Security to help them make ends meet may find that more challenging with no cost-of-living adjustment being figured into the checks next year.

While there has been talk of sending one-time $250 payments to seniors to help make up for the gap, some feel that will not do enough.

Steve Goldberg, the director of the Fort Plain Senior Center, said for many seniors, the $250 payment would just be "a drop in the bucket" toward making up for the lack of a COLA to Social Security.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Wally Truesdell, left, in green, leads a discussion during the Writer’s Circle meeting at the Senior
Citizens Service Center of Gloversville & Fulton County on Friday.

"It is a terrible situation," he said.

In mid-October, the federal government announced there would be no cost-of-living increase for more than 50 million Social Security recipients next year, the first year without a raise since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975.

By law, cost-of-living adjustments are pegged to inflation, which is negative this year because of lower energy costs.

Because of the spike in energy costs in 2008, Social Security payments increased by 5.8 percent in January, the largest increase since 1982.

However, there is a concern that higher prices are already starting to take hold again, Goldberg said. Many people are concerned about rising oil and food prices, he said.

Montgomery County Office for Aging Executive Director Cliff Balder said the lack of a COLA will be a major problem for many of the folks his agency tries to help.

"Many are low income to begin with, so every little bit helps," he said.

He noted that other costs, such as the premiums for the Medicare prescription drug program, known as Part D, are expected to increase.

"That cost-of-living adjustment will be missed," he said.

According to information from the Social Security Administration's Web site, www.ssa.gov, the 5.8 percent COLA this year for Social Security payments increased the average recipient's annual amount by about $756.

Andrea Fettinger, the executive director of the Fulton County Office for Aging, said any additional money, even $250, will be very helpful for some seniors.

"Some seniors really rely on Social Security to make ends meet," she said.

President Barack Obama already has called for a second round of $250 stimulus payments for seniors, veterans, retired railroad workers and people with disabilities.

The payments would match the ones issued to seniors earlier this year as part of the government's economic recovery package. The payments would be equal to about a 2 percent increase for the average Social Security recipient. The White House put the cost of the payments at $13 billion.

U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a news release that she would push for emergency legislation to support the $250 payments.

The release noted nearly 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries depend on these benefits for at least half of their income. Social Security checks are the sole source of income for 15 percent of recipients, the release said.

In Fulton County, according to the release, approximately 11,955 people would receive $2.99 million because of the payments. In Montgomery County, approximately 12,092 people would receive $3.02 million.

Catherine Mueller, the executive director of the Senior Citizens Service Center of Gloversville & Fulton?County, said $250 could help some seniors pay their heating bills this winter.

"The [seniors] I am most concerned about are the ones that did not have the ability to set money aside beforehand," she said.

However, irregardless of the payments, seniors do have some help they can rely on.

Fettinger said she is expecting to see more seniors come in seeking help, which the OFA should have no problem offering.

While Balder said no cash funds are available to give to people, the OFA can find multiple ways to help people, whether it is through something such as the Home Energy Assistance Program, or Meals on Wheels, or something else.

In the first quarter of this year, the Montgomery County OFA saw a 23 percent increase in the number of people coming in looking for services compared to the same time period last year.

So far, that trend appears to have held true through the rest of the year, he said.

"Really, the way we do things will stay the same," Balder said.

Goldberg said some extracurriculars, such as trips, may change some to compensate for the lack of a COLA. But most things will stay the same.

Mueller said the center may see more seniors seeking assistance, such as the use of it's food pantry.

However, that will not change what the center is able to offer.

Mueller said many of the classes available to seniors at the center do not require a fee.

Donations also make up only a small part of the center's budget, she said.

"If it's 3 percent of the budget, it's high," Mueller said.

 
 

 

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