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The announced increase for benefits for 2017 is "Simply NOT enough," according to Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.). (Photo: 401kcalculator.org/flickr/cc)

With Debate Framed for Chopping Safety Net, Lawmakers Denounce 'Measly' Social Security Increase

The 0.3 percent increase for 2017 is "woefully inadequate," said one expert.

Andrea Germanos

As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prepare to go head-to-head for a debate set to cover so-called "entitlements," several U.S. lawmakers are denouncing what they say is a sorely insufficient increase in Social Security benefits for next year.

Described even in corporate media stories as "measly" and "tiny," Social Security's 2017 cost of living adjustment for the over 65 million Americans who rely on the benefits will be a 0.3 percent increase, the federal government announced Tuesday. For the average recipient, that will amount to an increase of less than $4 per month, the Associated Press notes.

The Washington Post reports, "The 0.3 percent boost is the smallest increase in history for cost-of-living adjustments, which have been in place since 1975."

Seventy-year-old Ed Cadwell of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, said the adjustment will make people like him "fall further behind," adding, "I barely make it from month to month as it is."

Recipients like Cadwell saw no cost of living adjustment at all for 2016.

And this year's boost, according to Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) is "Simply NOT enough."

Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works, similarly criticized the increase as "woefully inadequate."

"Seniors and Americans with disabilities are facing rising costs, particularly from prescription drugs and other medical expenses," she said in a statement.

Altman, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), says the way the cost-of-living adjustment is figured, using the Consumer Price Index from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, is flawed. Many organizations who seek to expand Social Security say the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) would be a better measure.

Reacting to Tuesday's adjustment announcement, Sanders said, "Seniors and disabled veterans need more help than a few extra dollars in their monthly checks."

"At a time when senior poverty is going up and more than two-thirds of the elderly population rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, we must do everything we can to expand Social Security. Seniors and disabled veterans deserve a fair cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and health care. Unfortunately, the increase announced today doesn't come close to doing that," he said.

Also decrying the small increase was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who tweeted, "For many Americans struggling to make ends meet, that offers little relief."

Warren, along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), called on Congress to pass the Seniors and Veterans Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act, which would increase benefits.

A statement from Baldwin's office explains that the act would give an "emergency payment equal to 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security benefit, about $581—the same percentage raise that top CEOs received last year."

The cost for that payment come from "closing a tax loophole allowing corporations to write off executive bonuses as a business expense for 'performance pay'," the statement continues.

As for the presidential candidates' "starkly different views of the program," that's likely to come up Wednesday evening for the third and last presidential debate of 2016.

That's because "entitlement and debt" is among the six topics chosen by debate moderator Chris Wallace.

"While this has a clear meaning to policy wonks," argues economist Dean Baker, "it is likely that most viewers won't immediately know that 'entitlements' means the Social Security and Medicare their parents receive. It's a lot easier for politicians to talk about cutting wasteful 'entitlements' than taking away seniors' Social Security and Medicare."

According to Baker, "Those organizing the debate want to see Social Security and Medicare cut, so they are framing the topic in a way that cuts to these programs will seem like the only reasonable answer."

Altman offered a similar take, stating, "This biased framing falsely implies that Social Security contributes to the debt, and therefore needs to be cut. In fact, as President Ronald Reagan famously said, Social Security does not add a penny to the debt."

"In light of the nation's looming retirement income crisis and the erosion of benefits resulting from minuscule cost of living increases, Social Security should be expanded, not cut," she continued. "Unfortunately, Chris Wallace will be asking the wrong question tonight."


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