Here are the facts:
Congress does not set the COLA it is automatic and is based upon the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) which has been negative this year.
This from Social Security Online:
The first COLA, for June 1975, was based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the second quarter of 1974 to the first quarter of 1975. The 1976-83 COLAs were based on increases in the CPI-W from the first quarter of the prior year to the corresponding quarter of the current year in which the COLA became effective. After 1983, COLAs have been based on increases in the CPI-W from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding quarter of the current year in which the COLA became effective.
Section 215(i)(1) of the Social Security Act defines the calendar quarters that are to be used in the calculation of a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). In particular, the Act defines a "cost-of-living computation quarter" to mean a third calendar quarter with respect to which the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased relative to the last such quarter. Simply put, this means that, if a COLA becomes effective in any year, the COLA must be greater than zero.
If there is no COLA in one year, how is the next COLA calculated? Assuming Congress does not intervene by enacting a general benefit increase, the next COLA would become effective in December of the next year that has a third-quarter average CPI greater than the average for the last cost-of-living computation quarter.
For example, because there is no COLA effective for December 2009, the next COLA (2010 or later) will use the average CPI for the last cost-of-living computation quarter—the third quarter of 2008—as the base. That average is 215.495, so any future third-quarter average CPI must exceed 215.495 for that quarter to be a cost-of-living computation quarter. To further illustrate, if the third-quarter average for 2010 were 1.0 percent greater than 215.495, the COLA effective for December 2010 would be 1.0 percent.
There have been proposals to change the COLA formula--See www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/311063_retirement_no18.pdf
but they usually call for less of an increase rather than more arguing that the impact of inflation on seniors is less than the CPI-W.
Democrats want to help
Obama has proposed a one-time payment of $250 (about 2% of average benefit) which Republicans oppose this saying "that "despite various claims to the contrary, Social Security beneficiaries have enjoyed a real-terms increase in the purchasing power of their benefit checks and will continue to do so even in the absence of a COLA adjustment. See: http://www.gop.gov/policy-news/09/09/21/do-seniors-need-a-social. Therefore, it looks like there will be no increase AND no one-time payment to ease the pain. Thank the NO/Nothing Party. They don't think seniors need any help.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. did introduce something called the Emergency COLA bill that would provide for a COLA in 2010 equal to the average COLA over the past 10 years--roughly 3%. It hasn't received No/Nothing Party backing.
The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) says this about the COLA and proposed bills:
- Although the COLA is intended to help seniors keep up with inflation, a recent study by TSCL that analyzed 20 key expenditures found that people 65 and over have lost 20 percent of their buying power since 2000.
- Common senior expenses have soared since the beginning of the decade, such as Medicare Part B premiums (up 112 percent), heating oil (up 96 percent), and a dozen eggs (up 99 percent).
- Almost 70 percent of beneficiaries depend on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their income. Social Security is the sole source of income for 15 percent of beneficiaries.
- The Emergency COLA Bill (H.R. 3557), introduced last month by Congressman Walter Jones (NC) and encouraged and promoted by TSCL from the beginning, would provide a COLA for 2010 equal to the average of the COLA over the past ten years. That average is roughly three percent.
- The bill would give the average beneficiary an additional $415.20 in Social Security payments in 2010, a boost of $34.60 per month.
- More importantly, the bill prevents seniors from losing the compounding effect of a COLA increase, which could result in thousands of dollars more throughout retirement for millions of seniors.
Also, the House voted to stop the Medicare premium increases. This has Democratic support and the NO/Nothings may be willing to go along with it.
See the following for more: