Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


November 1, 2013

COLA increase: Good news for seniors

— — Monthly Social Security benefits will increase by 1.5 percent in 2014. The cost-of-living adjustment is helpful news for area senior citizens who are still struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times.

The cost-of-living adjustment will begin in January 2014. Millions of retired and disabled workers will receive an average raise of $19 a month to keep up with the cost of living.

The increase is among the smallest since automatic adjustments began more than three decades ago, and reflects the fact that consumer prices haven’t gone up much in the past year, according to an Associated Press analysis of the COLA increase. The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is based on a government measure of inflation that was released Wednesday.

Still, any increase for area seniors is welcomed over none.

Folks are still hurting. Senior citizens in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia will soon be facing larger heating, gas and electric bills as winter approaches. That means many will once again be forced to decide between paying the electric or gas bill or cutting back on food and medicine.

Automatic COLAs were adopted in 1975 so that benefits for people on fixed incomes would keep pace with rising prices. By law, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.

The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year with prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up over the course of the year, benefits go up, starting with payments delivered in January.

Some advocates for older Americans, however, complain that the COLA sometimes falls short, especially for people with high medical costs. And at least some area lawmakers agree with that assessment.

“While many seniors and workers could certainly use the extra money, this year’s Social Security COLA is hardly adequate to cover their rising expenses,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said. “It underscores the need for legislation, like I have proposed, to create a new inflation index that would result in a Social Security COLA that better reflects the real costs that seniors and workers are incurring.”

Rahall is correct in that the meager increase for 2014 won’t make that huge of a difference in a senior’s monthly income. But most seniors won’t complain about getting an increase — even if it is a small one. And a small increase is better than no increase.

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