Seniors citizens depend on an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to pay for rising healthcare, food, and other costs. But for the first time since 1975, the federal government is planning to drop the COLA in response to the recession.
For Glendale senior citizen Rose Simone and others like her, this could spell trouble. “I’m worried,” Simone said. “I’m on a fixed income so every penny counts.”
Simone spoke at the Middle Village Adult Center, where she gathered with other seniors to protest the cuts along with Congressman Anthony Weiner and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.
Weiner has proposed the COLA Fairness Act, alternative legislation that would provide New Yorkers with a 2.1 percent increase in social security benefits over the next five years.
Weiner’s plan would create a sliding cost adjustment scale to help regions like New York City that have above average living costs.
Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awards an across-the-board increase that experts say ignores regional cost disparities.
Weiner said the SSA plan is unrealistic, and would hurt seniors at a time when they can least afford it.
“To say that the cost for seniors will not go up for two years is to pretend the laws of economic gravity don’t apply to older people,” Weiner said, according to prepared remarks.
In 2008 alone, said Weiner, healthcare costs rose by 5.5 percent, rent increased by 6 percent, and food prices jumped over 2 percent. (Last year’s COLA was 5.2 percent).
“The purpose of COLA is to help seniors keep up,” he said. “The Social Security Administration seems to have forgotten that mission.”
Crowley said a regional sliding scale makes sense, noting that the city is among the most expensive places in the world.
“The federal government needs to conduct a regional assessment of the cost of living and base social security payments accordingly,” she said.
Simone said without the increase she isn’t sure how she will cope. “Maybe my children could help me or something,” said Simone. “I’d have to rely on them.”
She sounded hopeful Congress would pass Weiner’s bill, but others expressed skepticism.
“I’m 96, you think I’ll ever get the money?” asked Florence Seklin, who lives in Woodhaven. “It’s ridiculous. I’m angry.”
Nonetheless, Seklin signed a petition circulated by Weiner and Crowley in support of the congressman’s proposal. She said she doesn’t want money worries this late in life.
“Why should I be getting worried about [money] now?” she said.