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Posts Tagged 'Chained CPI'

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It’s Definitely Not the Kind of Greeting Card Beneficiaries Want This Holiday Season

Each year the Social Security Administration reviews beneficiaries’ benefits and sends out millions of notices to ensure you know what to expect in next year’s Social Security check.  Unfortunately, as was announced last month, there will be NO cost of living increase in 2016.

We review Social Security benefits each year to make sure they keep up with the cost of living. The law does not permit an increase in benefits when there is no increase in the cost of living. So your benefit will stay the same in 2016. There was no increase in the cost of living during the past year based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the Department of Labor. The CPI is the Federal government's official measure used to calculate cost of living increases.”...Social Security Administration 2016 Benefit mailing

Since 2009, Social Security beneficiaries have seen a 0% COLA increase three times (2009, 2010, 2016) with an average of just 1.2% increase over those years, confirming yet again, that the current Social Security COLA formula isn’t accurately measuring seniors’ expenses.  Seniors across this nation understand how important having an accurate measure of the increase in their real costs is to their day-to-day survival.  While there has been a lot of talk in Washington about the need to find a more accurate COLA formula; unfortunately, that attention has largely focused on ways to cut the COLA even further.  Leaving many Americans to wonder what’s less than zero?  If accurate inflation protection for seniors is truly our goal, Congress needs to adopt a fully developed CPI for the elderly (CPI-E).

Research has shown that spending patterns differ between the elderly and the general population, especially on health care.  Seniors 65 and older spend more than twice as much on health care, and those 75 and older spend nearly three times more than younger consumers.  Not only do health care expenditures steadily increase with age but health care costs consistently rise much faster than general inflation.  The current price index (CPI-W) does not take these critical differences in the elderly population into consideration.  The chained CPI doubles-down on that flaw.  Even worse, the proposed chained CPI will cut COLAs immediately for current and future retirees, veterans, the poor and people with disabilities.

GOP Presidential candidates Republican Congressional leaders continue to support adoption of the so-called “Chained” CPI because they claim the current COLA formula is too generous and should be reduced.  Reduced?!? 

Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed legislation to address the immediate need by providing a $580 Social Security boost.  NCPSSM supports Warren’s efforts and will continue to fight for a fully developed cost of living formula geared to America’s elderly. 

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The GOP Debate Watchers Guide on Social Security & Medicare


Busting Tonight’s Top 5 GOP Myths – In Advance

You don’t have to be much of a political sooth-sayer to predict that, given the GOP rush to attack what the party calls “entitlements” (and what everyone else knows are actually earned benefits), tonight’s debate will likely touch on the GOP Presidential candidates’ plans for Social Security and Medicare. 

Unfortunately, since this debate is being moderated by Fox News that discussion will start from the flawed premise that these programs are “bankrupt,” destroying America’s economy and simply too expensive.  It’s likely to go downhill from there as the GOP Presidential contenders have already tried to prove their conservative bona-fides by out tough-talking each other in a rush to cut benefits more than the guys standing next to them.  (So far, Mike Huckabee has been the exception to that rule so it will be interesting to see what tonight brings from him.)

As you watch tonight, remember these basic truths:   

1.  Social Security and Medicare Are NOT Bankrupt and not in Crisis

Medicare solvency remains greatly improved since passage of health care reform with the Hospital Trust Fund paying full benefits until 2030 which is the same as was projected last year. In 2030, payroll taxes alone are estimated to be sufficient to cover 86 percent of HI costs. Solvency has improved by 13 years from the date that was projected before enactment of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Medicare's actuarial shortfall actually decreased from last year. 

Social Security remains well-funded. With the economy in recovery, Social Security's total income will exceed its expenses by over $9.2 billion and annual income will exceed obligations through 2019. There is nearly $2.79 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $25 billion more than last year and it will continue to grow by payroll contributions, income taxes paid on benefits, and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.

Even if Congress does nothing, and no one believes that will happen, Social Security and Medicare are still not “bankrupt.” The programs will pay reduced benefits once their Trust Fund reserves are depleted.  However, a 14% Medicare benefit cut in 2030 and a 21% Social Security cut in 2034 are not options. That’s why we urge Congress to set aside the crisis rhetoric and focus its attention on benefit adequacy and long-term solvency as proposed in the Social Security 2100 Act

2.  Disability “Crisis” Can be Easily Avoided

Congress has known since 1994 that the Disability Trust Fund would be depleted in 2016, meaning only 81 percent of scheduled benefits will be payable after that point. Rather than make a routine administrative reallocation of income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as Congress has done 11 times before (including 4 times during the Reagan administration), the GOP House has blocked that move.  Conservatives say they will wait until the 11th hour to force broader changes in the Social Security program, rather than simply fix the issue easily today. So if you hear any hand-wringing tonight about the disability “crisis” from Presidential candidates tonight, understand this is a “crisis” of the GOP Congressional leadership’s making.  Also, a subset of this discussion is the myth that the disability program’s solvency issues are due to lazy Americans who are scamming the system.  The truth is disability expenditures have increased primarily due to anticipated demographic trends - as the large number of baby boomers age into the disability-prone years (they turned ages 50 to 68 in 2014), more people become disabled and thus receive benefits.  The increase in full retirement age from 65 to 66 (and to 67 for those born after 1959) has also contributed to the increase in disability expenditures, as people remain on the disability rolls longer before shifting to retirement. Also, it’s not easy to get disability.  80% of initial disability claims are denied.

3. No One Suggests “Doing Nothing”

Claims that supporters of Social Security & Medicare want to “do nothing” is an absurd straw-man argument designed to hide the real truth that conservatives have long supported a cuts-only approach to addressing long-term solvency with little regard to what those cuts actually mean to American families.  From President Bush’s failed privatization campaign to the GOP Budget and many other harmful proposals in between, ensuring that Social Security and Medicare benefits remain adequate for millions of Americans is not the primary goal.  The #1 goal is to cut benefits.  Rather than address the many solvency proposals which don’t rely solely on benefit cuts, GOP candidates have chosen to pretend these plans simply don’t exist, thus the “do nothing” straw-man argument.

4.   Slashing Benefits Isn’t the Only Way to “Save” Social Security and Medicare

When a candidate promises to “save these programs for future generations” by raising the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age, privatizing Social Security, changing the COLA formula and means-testing Social Security while exempting near retirees what they’re actually saying is:  “We know seniors vote so we’ll protect them now and slash future benefits for their children and grandchildren instead.”  This cynical GOP messaging strategy isn’t new.  But it ignores the fact that seniors understand the recession generation will need Social Security and Medicare, particularly as they face high unemployment, wage stagnation and historically high student loan rates.

What You Won't Hear Tonight

Here are a few examples of proposals you won’t hear about tonight: lift the Social Security payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their share, allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs in Part D, reinstitute Part D drug rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers and allow billions in Medicare Advantage overpayments to private insurers to be fully phased out as provided in the ACA.  You can be sure none of these proposals will be offered by GOP Presidential candidates tonight, even though they would save billions and spare current and future retirees, survivors and the disabled from devastating benefit cuts. Poll after poll shows the American people of all ages and political parties oppose cutting benefits in Social Security and Medicare.  They’re also willing to pay more to strengthen the program for future generations.  But you won’t hear that tonight either.

America is the wealthiest nation in the world at the wealthiest point in our history, yet rather than focus on growing income inequality, wage stagnation and the death of the middle-class, conservatives hope to shift voters’ attention away from the true causes of our economic malaise in favor of cutting benefits for “greedy geezers” and “takers” who receive Social Security and Medicare, all the while promising to strengthen the programs by slashing them.

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Taking a Social Security Victory Lap

We have to admit that is a headline we love to see!

For so many years now, the well-financed anti-Social Security lobby in Washington has owned the nation’s economic debate.   They had a billion dollars invested to persuade Washington to pass benefit cuts for middle-class Americans to reduce deficits that Social Security and Medicare did not create. 

The problem with their strategy is the American people never bought it.  They didn’t then and they still don’t today.  Americans of all ages and political parties simply don’t support  cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit.  They know there are other ways to be fiscally responsible that don’t target Americans who’ve already suffered the most in this economy.   Ultimately members of Congress urged the President—and he’s agreed --  to take the cost of living formula change called the Chained CPI out of his budget.  The truth is, deficits are coming down and we didn’t have to target Social Security to do it.

The National Journal summed it up this way:

“After a three-year obsession with closing America's gaping budget hole, Washington, it seems, has moved on. Last month's budget deal, which put a momentary end to the cliffs and crises that have dominated fiscal policymaking since the tea party came to Congress, coupled with a rapidly shrinking short-term deficit, has driven the nation's budget imbalances quickly and quietly from the agenda.”

The Los Angeles Times says “Bye-Bye Chained CPI”

“...the chained CPI has lived on for years in Washington as a potential sop to conservatives in negotiations over a fiscal ‘grand bargain.’ The White House now indicates that it has finally given up hope on reaching that bargain with Republicans. (What took them so long?) So the chained CPI, which was part of President Obama's budget proposal as recently as last year, is out of the budget to be unveiled on March 4.

Social Security advocates are calling that a victory, because it effectively takes the chained CPI out of the mainstream of "entitlement reform." It's a significant victory, but the danger is that it might not be lasting. Recent history shows that the dream of forcing low-income seniors to pay for budget cuts so that wealthy Americans aren't burdened with a tax increase never really dies; it just goes into hibernation.”

Probably so, but supporters of Social Security are rightfully taking a victory lap now to celebrate the protection of our nation’s most successful program.  Next step is to direct the conversation to where it should be...Boost  Social Security now.  

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Good News For Social Security Beneficiaries...For a Change

In briefings by the White House today reporters were given advance looks at the President's 2015 budget.  In it are some pleasant surprises for seniors, veterans and the disabled who've been targeted with budget cuts in previous budgets.

"Last year’s Budget included policies like chained CPI - the number one policy change that Republicans had asked for in previous fiscal negotiations.  However, over the course of last year, Republicans consistently showed a lack of willingness to negotiate on a deficit reduction deal, refusing to identify even one unfair tax loophole they would be willing to close, despite the President’s willingness to put tough things on the table.  The offer to Speaker Boehner remains on the table for whenever the Republicans decide they want to engage in a serious discussion about a balanced plan to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges that includes closing loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, but the chained CPI provision will not be included in this year’s budget."  White House budget preview memo

“Reports that President Obama will not include cuts to Social Security through adoption of the Chained CPI in his 2015 budget is welcome news for millions of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities who are tired of their modest benefits being used as deficit reduction bargaining chips.  While it appears the White House has, for now, listened to the vast majority of Americans, of all ages and political parties, the President has still left the door open for more “let’s make a deal” bargaining with seniors’ benefits.  He’s taking one step forward by keeping the Chained CPI out of his budget.  We hope he won’t end up taking one step back by offering it up again later during any budget talks.

The chained CPI was a flawed idea from the start targeting both current and future retirees. It would cut benefits by 3% for workers retired for ten years and 6% for workers retired for twenty years. Three years after enactment, this translates to a benefit cut of $130 per year in Social Security benefits for a typical 65 year-old. The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 or more than three months of benefits by age 75. We applaud the President for listening to members of Congress and Americans nationwide who have made the case repeatedly that cutting benefits to middle-class families is not the way to balance our books.

Unfortunately, it appears the White House will keep its plan to further means test Medicare in its 2015 budget proposal.  Further means-testing Medicare continues to undermine the social insurance nature of Medicare and ultimately raises costs for middle and lower-income seniors who depend on it.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President & CEO

You can read more coverage of the President's 2015 budget in this Associated Press story

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A $19 COLA Hike Too Generous?!?

Only in Washington would you see folks who actually believe that  today's announcement of a 1.5% COLA hike (three out of five years it's been less than 2%) is too generous. This tiny COLA increase means that millions of seniors who rely on their Social Security for the basics like fuel, groceries and medical bills will once again find their expenses outpacing their Social Security benefit.  For the average senior, this COLA will mean about a $19 monthly increase, which incredibly some in Washington consider too generous.   

“Seniors know all to well, their living costs often outpace the COLA increase and a 1.5% increase is anything but too generous.  Proponents of a stingier COLA formula claim the Chained CPI is more accurate; however, in truth it is a benefit cut for millions of current and future retirees, veterans, people with disabilities and their families. Replacing the current COLA formula with the chained CPI will mean the typical 65 year-old, who filed for benefits at 62, would lose about $130 per year in benefits. By the time that senior reaches 95, the annual benefit cut will be almost $1,400, which is a 9.2 percent cut. 

Given that the average senior currently receives just over $14,000 a year in Social Security, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can argue the COLA should be cut.. Yet this is exactly what has been proposed by the White House and in budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.  The American people don’t support cutting Social Security to balance the budget and this annual COLA announcement should remind Washington why adopting the chained CPI is not only bad policy, it’s also bad politics.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

There is a better way as our President/CEO, Max Richtman, has reported:

The BLS acknowledges the current CPI-W does not "produce official estimates for the rate of inflation experienced by subgroups of the population, such as the elderly or the poor. This is why we need a true elderly index like the CPI-E and not a formula change that will cut benefits and drive more seniors into poverty. A provision in Senator Bernie Sanders's bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (S. 1028) would require the BLS improve the CPI-E and should be adopted by this Congress without any further delay. 

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