White House budget has Social Security COLA cuts

The White House released a new budget plan Wednesday that would reduce entitlement benefits for retired Americans. The budget proposal seeks to limit cost of living adjustments known as COLA to Social Security by using a less generous formula to measure inflation for computing future benefit increases. Called “Chained CPI,” some conservatives say the plan would save the government billions of dollars. But others say the proposed changes also place an unfair burden on people who can least afford it.

About 58 million Americans receive social security benefits. Many live day-to-day on fixed incomes.

Kay Dennison works part time at a retirement center in Maryland. She worries she could lose everything if her monthly checks don’t keep up with inflation.

“Probably my home, because everything is so tight and so high, and the mortgage rates. We’ve been in our home 40 years and we still owe,” Dennison said.

The proposed changes to annual cost-of-living adjustments would save the government an estimated $130 billion over 10 years. But a seniors’ advocacy group, says under the new formula the average retiree would get $220 less a year after five years and $862 less annually after 20 years.

Economist Monique Morrissey at the Economic Policy Institute says reducing already meager benefits on average about $1,200 a month, unfairly targets the most vulnerable Americans.

“Poverty rates for the oldest are higher, incomes are lower. They’ve often used up other resources. They have more out of pocket expenses for health care. They’re the last group you would ever want to target to take the brunt of these cuts,” Ms. Morrissey said.

With the U.S. population aging, Social Security now takes in less revenue than it spends. Conservative economists say more cuts may be necessary to keep the program solvent.

Charles Konigsberg at the Federal Budget Group says Americans have a choice: Increase their contributions or face reduced benefits.

“The good news is that these problems can be solved if they’re addressed now. The longer we wait, the more difficult it is to fix the problem because the growth in spending accumulates over time,” Konigsberg said.

Retired educator Virginia Levy is more fortunate. Her monthly social security checks help supplement her teacher’s pension.

“I’m worried more about future generations, what it’s going to do to them. My children are 40 and what’s going to happen to them when they are retiring? Their Social Security is going to be a fraction of what ours is,” Ms. Levy said.

Indeed, Monique Morrissey says the proposed changes will affect all Americans.

“People think Social Security is for old people. They don’t realize that the benefits that are being cut are really for young people who will be old at that point. This one form of cut, by cutting the COLA, doing it immediately, affects both young and old people,” Ms. Morrissey said.

The president’s proposed budget includes additional cuts to Medicare, and eliminates loopholes for wealthier Americans. But with a mid-term election next year, analysts say it’s unlikely Congress will approve the budget without making changes.

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