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Seniors may not see an increase in benefits

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Although it hasn't been formally announced, the buzz on senior citizens is that they won't receive their annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

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"Because the consumer price index is in the negative, there probably won't be an increase in COLA this year," said Mike Syverson, office manager of the Social Security office in Alexandria.

Syverson said a formal announcement about COLA isn't expected until sometime in October. He expects that there won't be an increase, but there also won't be a decrease.

"Everything should stay the same," he said.

He also noted that since the automated increase in COLA was put into law - 20-plus years ago - there has always been an annual increase. This will be the first time that those on Social Security won't see an increase.

In recent years, the average increase has been between 2 and 3 percent, said Syverson, although last year, there was a higher than normal increase - it was 5.8 percent.

Syverson explained that COLA is tied to the consumer price index and that currently, it is roughly at a negative 2 percent.

The Department of Labor is responsible for the consumer price index, he said, noting that it uses comparisons from the previous 12 months to the current 12 months.

Because of the economy, the consumer price index has dropped, which then has a negative impact on COLA.

Syverson also noted that the news about COLA won't come as a surprise to most senior citizens because it has been a hot topic of conversation for several weeks.

If COLA remains the same, Syverson said senior citizens, and others who receive Social Security benefits, will notice that the check they receive in January will be the same. Typically, when there has been an increase, the change takes effect starting in January.

Because Social Security benefits are protected by law, Syverson said one positive is that COLA won't see a decrease.

However, some senior citizens have payments or premiums taken out of their Social Security checks for Medicare. There is a provision for Part B that the payment can't change. However, Part D does not have that provision and can change. It's possible for a decrease in benefits if there is an increase in the payment for Part D, said Syverson.

Because it can be complicated for senior citizens, Syverson said it's best to contact the Social Security office or visit its website at www.ssa.gov.

The Alexandria Social Security office can be reached by calling (320) 762-2454. In addition, there is a national telephone service that can be reached toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.

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