With senior poverty in the United States significantly increasing, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday expressed deep concern that Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees may receive only a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment next year. The estimate that the typical retiree is in line for only a $17 a month raise, one of the smallest increases ever, was made by The Associated Press. The projection comes at a time when congressional Republicans, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have used the government shutdown as leverage to renew their push to cut benefits even more. The Republicans and some Democrats want to change how inflation is calculated by adopting a so-called chained consumer price index. The chained CPI also would lower benefits for disabled veterans and federal retirees.
"I find it incomprehensible that any serious person would believe that a 1.5 percent COLA is too generous and would want to enact a chained CPI which would make these COLAs even lower," said Sanders, the founder of the Senate's Defending Social Security Caucus and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"This is an attack not only on seniors but on disabled veterans and other people with disabilities. It cannot be allowed to succeed," Sanders added.
Sanders said today's method of calculating inflation for seniors is inadequate because it does not take into account how health care, drugs, heating fuel and food costs drive up living expenses for seniors more than other segments of the population. Most seniors don't benefit from low prices for goods like computers and flat-screen televisions that are part of the market basket of all goods and services used by the Labor Department to determine the rate of inflation.
Sanders said the projected 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise next year, which would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975, makes it clear that a chained CPI would be disastrous for retirees, disabled veterans and others.
A 1.5 percent raise would translate into $17-a-month more for the average recipient who gets $1,162 a month. Altogether, about 58 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits.
Enacting a chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits by over $120 billion over 10 years. The average Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $658 less a year at age 75 and would get more than $1,000 less a year at age 85 than under current law.
A chained CPI also would make substantial cuts to benefits of more than 3 million disabled veterans. The largest cuts would impact young, permanently disabled veterans who were seriously wounded in combat. It would also impact more than 350,000 survivors who receive service-connected death benefits. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65.
Under a chained CPI, the average retired federal employee over the next 25 years would lose $48,000; the average Social Security recipient would lose $23,000; and, the military retiree would lose $42,000.