In the wake of the federal government's announcement this week of a paltry 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients in 2021, a pair of House Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would more than double the benefit increase next year as an emergency measure to help seniors cope with the devastating economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.
"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, seniors are facing additional financial burdens in order to stay safe," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who unveiled the bill alongside Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.). "This absolutely anemic COLA won't even come close to helping them afford even their everyday expenses, let alone those exacerbated by Covid-19."
"This absolutely anemic COLA won't even come close to helping them afford even their everyday expenses, let alone those exacerbated by Covid-19."
—Rep. Peter DeFazio
Endorsed by advocacy groups representing millions of seniors and retirees across the U.S., DeFazio and Larson's legislation would boost Social Security's COLA to 3% in 2021 because, as the Connecticut Democrat put it, "a 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment is just not enough during these difficult times."
"Social Security is our country's number one financial security program, and, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, people are depending on it now more than ever," said Larson, the lead sponsor of legislation to expand Social Security's benefits across the board and ensure the program's solvency into the next century.
Larson and DeFazio pointed to data from the Senior Citizens League showing that annual COLAs have averaged a mere 1.4% over the past decade, a sharp decline from the 3% average increase between 1999 and 2009.
Due to an inadequate measure of inflation, Social Security's modest benefits are eroding.
Congress should immediately pass the bill: https://t.co/YCcLs7t4R2
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The new legislation comes amid widespread fears about the future of Social Security should President Donald Trump win reelection next month. In August, as Common Dreams reported, Trump vowed on live television to "terminate" the tax that funds both Social Security and Medicare—a proposal that critics warned poses an "existential threat" to the New Deal program's finances.
In a statement Wednesday applauding DeFazio and Larson's proposal, Social Security Works president Nancy Altman said "Social Security's automatic cost of living adjustment is one of its most valuable features, even more so in the middle of a pandemic."
"But due to an inadequate measure, Social Security's modest benefits are eroding," Altman added. "To offset that erosion, Representatives DeFazio and Larson are wisely proposing an ad hoc 3% increase. Social Security Works applauds their leadership and enthusiastically endorses their proposal. Congress should immediately pass their legislation, which will boost the economy and save lives."
Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, also voiced support for the new bill, calling it an important step toward helping seniors face the "extraordinary challenges" of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The Covid pandemic has devastated many older Americans both physically and financially," said Richtman. "Seniors living on fixed incomes need a lifeboat; this COLA increase is more like an underinflated inner tube. We strongly support Rep. Peter DeFazio's bill to provide an emergency 3% Social Security COLA for 2021."