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Protest to expand Social Security

Activists participate in a rally urging the expansion of Social Security benefits in front of the White House on July 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Social Security Cost-of-Living Boost Spotlights 'Need to Expand, Not Cut, Benefits'

"Congress should pass legislation to protect and expand Social Security, and pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to contribute their fair share," said advocacy group Social Security Works.

Julia Conley

Advocates for senior citizens and millions of other people who receive monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration applauded Thursday as the agency announced a historic increase in monthly payments, and called on Congress to further expand Social Security to ensure future beneficiaries can afford housing and other essentials.

"Retirees must be vigilant and make sure they are voting for candidates who will protect the benefits they earn, not put them on the chopping block."

More than 70 million people will benefit from the 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), including about eight million children and adults who have disabilities or low incomes and receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

On average, beneficiaries will receive $145 more per month in response to the fastest inflation in four decades. The COLA is the largest boost to the New Deal-era program since 1981.

The agency's announcement "highlights what seniors have always known—that Social Security's automatic inflation protection is vital," said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a lead sponsor of legislation to expand the program. "This increase is good news as it protects benefits against losing their purchasing power over time, but we must do more to help beneficiaries now!"

The adjustment comes as Republicans repeat false claims that Social Security is an unsustainable burden on the U.S. government, with lawmakers including Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) proposing that Congress review the program every five years or annually.

"Republicans in the House and Senate and on the campaign trail are tripping over each other to put forward their own extreme and risky schemes to cut or end Social Security as we know it," said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, in a statement Thursday. "Retirees must be vigilant and make sure they are voting for candidates who will protect the benefits they earn, not put them on the chopping block."

Proponents of social safety net programs have long countered Republican attacks on Social Security, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) noting earlier this year that the program is currently funded to pay 90% of benefits for the next 25 years and 80% of benefits for the next 75 years.

Congressional action to expand the program would ensure senior citizens now and in the future can afford necessities, said advocacy group Social Security Works, noting that other forms of income for retirees cannot be adjusted the way Social Security can.

"The annual cost of living adjustment is one of Social Security's most essential and unique features," said Nancy Altman, president of the group. "Unlike private-sector pension plans, whose benefits erode over time, Social Security is designed to keep up with rising prices."

"Unfortunately, even with today's COLA, many simply cannot make ends meet, because their earned Social Security benefits are inadequately low," Altman added. "Congress should pass legislation to protect and expand Social Security, and pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to contribute their fair share."

The vast majority of Democrats in the U.S. House have co-sponsored the Social Security 2100 Act, which would improve minimum benefits, the COLA, and benefits for people who are widowed, as well as raising the cap on payments by wealthy Americans, who contribute as little as .08% of their income to Social Security, compared to the 6.2% rate contributed by most workers.

Despite the bill's popularity and Republicans' attacks on the program ahead of the midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not allowed a vote on the Social Security 2100 Act.

"Social Security's annual cost of living adjustment is a reminder of how valuable Social Security is, but also of how modest the underlying benefits are," said Altman. "We must expand, not cut, benefits."

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