By FATIMA HUSSEIN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of Social Security recipients will get an 8.7% boost in their benefits in 2023, a historic increase but a gain that will be eaten up in part by the rising cost of everyday living.
The cost-of living adjustment — the largest in more than 40 years — means the average recipient will receive more than $140 extra a month beginning in January, the Social Security Administration said Thursday.
While Social Security recipients welcomed the benefit increase, many said it wasn’t enough to cover the impact of inflation.
It’s “not much help,” said 85-year-old Shirley Parker, who lives in Chatham on Chicago’s South Side,
Home maintenance costs and high grocery prices are cutting steeply into her budget. “Food is ridiculous. I come out with a bag full of groceries — $50 — don’t have about 10 items,” she said.
A separate government report Thursday showed inflation newly accelerating. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4% for September after just 0.1% in August and is up 8.2% for the past 12 months. Jobless claims for unemployment benefits rose for the week.
The Social Security Administration said the estimated average monthly Social Security benefit for all retired workers will be $1,827 starting in January, according to an agency fact sheet.
The boost in Social Security benefits will be coupled with a 3% drop in Medicare Part B premiums, meaning retirees will get the full impact of the Social Security increase.
“This year’s substantial Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is the first time in over a decade that Medicare premiums are not rising and shows that we can provide more support to older Americans who count on the benefits they have earned,” said the Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi.
President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon echoed the sentiment that the Medicare premium reduction would have some impact on retirees’ wallets. “Seniors are gonna get ahead of inflation next year,” Biden said. “For the first time in 10 years, their Social Security checks will go up while their Medicare premiums go down.”
Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of the AARP, said the benefits increase “will provide much needed relief to millions of Americans.”
Several government indexes show that inflation hits older Americans harder than the rest of the population. Medical costs are a big part of the burden.
The Social Security announcement comes just weeks before the midterm elections, and at a time when Democrats and Republicans are sparring about high prices now and how best to shore up the program financially in the future.
William Arnone, chief executive of the National Academy of Social Insurance, an advocacy organization for Social Security, said the benefit increase is “no cause for celebration,” since it will not help all recipients overcome inflation, especially if prices continue to rise.
“There’s already indications that health care inflation is going to be through the roof next year,” Arnone said.
Margaret Toman, a 78-year-old in Garner, North Carolina, who had stopped working to take care of her mother, who has since died, described the 8.7% increase as “quite stingy.”
“I think most of us who are older receiving Social Security are grateful for that Social Security,” she said. “But that gratitude sometimes covers up or replaces a certain feeling of anger at having paid into a system for so long and still struggling to survive.”
About 70 million people — including retirees, disabled people and children — receive Social Security benefits. This will be the biggest increase in benefits that baby boomers, those born between the years 1946 and 1964, have ever seen. The last time a COLA was higher was in 1981, at 11.2%.
Willie Clark, 65, of Waukegan, Illinois, says his budget is “real tight” and the increase in his Social Security disability benefits could give him some breathing room to cover household expenses he’s been holding off on.
Still, he doubts how much of the extra money will end up in his pocket. His rent in an apartment building subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is based on his income, so he expects that will rise, too.
Social Security is financed by payroll taxes collected from workers and their employers. The maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes for 2023 is $160,200, up from $147,000 in 2022.
The financing setup dates to the 1930s, the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who believed a payroll tax would foster among average Americans a sense of ownership that would protect the program from political interference.
Next year’s higher payout, without an accompanying increase in Social Security contributions, could put additional pressure on a system that’s facing a severe shortfall in coming years.
The annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report released in June says the program’s trust fund will be unable to pay full benefits beginning in 2035.
If the trust fund is depleted, the government will be able to pay only 80% of scheduled benefits, the report said. Medicare will be able to pay 90% of total scheduled benefits if the fund is depleted.
In January, a Pew Research Center poll showed 57% of U.S. adults saying that “taking steps to make the Social Security system financially sound” was a top priority for the president and Congress to address this year. Securing Social Security got bipartisan support, with 56% of Democrats and 58% of Republicans calling it a top priority.
Some solutions for reforming Social Security have been proposed, but none has moved forward in a sharply partisan Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the COLA announcement is a reminder that “extreme MAGA Republicans are openly plotting new schemes to slash seniors’ benefits and raise their costs – including by threatening to cause an economic catastrophe by holding the debt limit hostage for their toxic agenda.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., issued a detailed plan that would require Congress to come up with a proposal to adequately fund Social Security and Medicare or potentially phase them out.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., publicly rebuked the plan and Biden has used Scott’s proposal as a political bludgeon against Republicans before the midterm elections.
“If Republicans in Congress have their way, seniors will pay more for prescription drugs and their Social Security benefits will never be secure,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.