Social Security not projecting increase for 2016

NO INCREASE?: The Social Security Administration projection believed most likely to happen doesn't have a cost-of-living adjustment increase in benefits for 2016. Several area seniors gather at Bernie's Doughnut Shoppe in downtown Big Rapids to enjoy coffee and conversation. On Wednesday, they shared their thoughts about the possibility of no increase. Pictured are (clockwise, from left) Betty Locklear, Nancy Toogood-Sharp, Ray Dickinson, Charlene Nowlin and Suzie Closson. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

NO INCREASE?: The Social Security Administration projection believed most likely to happen doesn’t have a cost-of-living adjustment increase in benefits for 2016. Several area seniors gather at Bernie’s Doughnut Shoppe in downtown Big Rapids to enjoy coffee and conversation. On Wednesday, they shared their thoughts about the possibility of no increase. Pictured are (clockwise, from left) Betty Locklear, Nancy Toogood-Sharp, Ray Dickinson, Charlene Nowlin and Suzie Closson. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — Whether or not millions of Americans receiving Social Security benefits will be getting more money each month won’t officially be determined until October, but the outlook isn’t good.

Cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to Social Security payments are automatically determined based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Basically, the government looks at the average CPI-W at the end of the third quarter each year and compares it to the same data from the year before. If it’s higher, there’s an increase; if not, there isn’t.

“If there’s not an increase in the COLA, that will hurt many beneficiaries who already are struggling to get by,” said Tom Czerwinski, executive director for the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan. “For 20 percent of the beneficiaries on Social Security, it’s their only source of income, and two-thirds of beneficiaries receive more than half their income from Social Security.”

The third quarter won’t be complete until September is over, but projections show the average CPI-W is expected to be lower than last year. In the 2015 Annual Report from Social Security to the Committee on Ways and Means in July, the projection figures considered most likely to happen show no increase for 2016.

This isn’t good news for area seniors.

Ray Dickinson, of Big Rapids, dealt with not receiving an increase the last time Social Security payments didn’t go up, in 2010 and 2011. But things are very different for him today than they were four years ago.

“My wife died in June, and two-thirds of my income was lost at her death,” he said. “Now, I only have my own Social Security — I don’t have hers or her retirement. Then, I had about $5,800 a month and now I have about $1,800 a month and I have to pay for all my own health insurance.”

While he has Medicare, Dickinson needed supplemental health and prescription insurance, which together cost him about $216 a month.

“It adds up,” he said. “Social Security is a great service for a lot of people, and I know some people abuse it, but I don’t think the majority of people do — it’s the only way some people survive.”

Covering the monthly bills will be the first priority for many seniors, but as the cost of goods increases, the dollars they have will have to stretch farther, said Suzie Clossen, of Big Rapids

“On the whole, it’s going to hurt a lot of the elderly,” Clossen said. “With the way gas prices are going up, people aren’t going to be able to go places.”

For some seniors, Social Security is their only source of income. Not receiving an increase in benefits could mean some difficult choices.

“I know darn well the cost of my medicines is going to go up, and that means less food,” said Charlene Nowlin, of Big Rapids.

Nowlin’s friend Betty Locklear agreed.

“Food is going to be the bad part,” said Locklear, of Big Rapids. “Charlene and I go to Gordon Foods and get a gallon of their bread and butter pickles and share it. I think that’s what it’s going to come to — people will end up sharing more.”

Seniors living outside of town may face more challenges because they can’t walk to stores and need to take care of heat and snowplowing costs, added Heather Edge, a home health care technician.

“It amazes me in my line of work how differently everybody lives,” Edge said. “Some people in our community have no running water and you have to give them a bath with a bottle of water. Some of them worry about propane for the winter and don’t know if they can stay in their homes. There are a lot of resources out there, but people don’t know anything about them.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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