Benefit Bulletin: March/April 2022

Many Low Income Seniors Likely to See Cuts

By Rick Delaney, Chairman of the Board

Consider this.  The next time you meet someone over the age of 62, there’s a 50% chance that person may be having trouble affording food.  Almost half of the participants in our latest online Senior Survey report having visited a food pantry or applied for SNAP (food stamps) over the past twelve months.  This stark finding comes from TSCL’s 2022 online Senior Survey, which drew more than 2,000 participants by the end of January.

Some of you tell us that you never imagined retirement could be like this.  But to survive tough times, it takes a pragmatic person.  Going hungry due to a misplaced sense of pride threatens your health and only worsens your finances.  If you are bothered by accepting outright help, volunteer at a local food pantry or in some other way to “pay back.”  There’s plenty to do that you could feel proud about.  When things get a little better you may even be in a better position to donate if you can.

TSCL surveys have found widespread support for low-income safety net programs among older Americans and their families.  But programs such as SNAP and rental assistance aren’t easy to access, and incomes need to be scraping bottom even to qualify for benefits.  There are income and asset restrictions, documentation requirements, and a confusing mare’s nest of rules just to qualify for benefits.

Now, with the 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) lifting Social Security incomes in 2022, we expect that many recently - qualified retired and disabled beneficiaries are facing assistance trims during annual income reviews. A new analysis for TSCL found that the cuts in benefit assistance could potentially affect a large number of low-income beneficiaries in states across the nation, because the adjustment to the federal poverty guidelines in 2022 grew much more slowly than the annual COLA raised Social Security benefits.  Those benefit cutbacks will hit households of two and married couples the hardest.

An analysis by Advisor editor Mary Johnson indicates that the income levels listed in the 2022 federal poverty guidelines rose just 5.5% for individuals, versus the 5.9% COLA from an annual income of $12,880 in 2021, to $13,590 in 2022, and an even more meager 5.1% from $17,420 in 2021, to $18,310 in 2022 for households of two people.  This happens because federal poverty guidelines are adjusted using a different inflation adjustment index and methodology than the COLA.

L.F. of MO described the situation:

The COLA adjustment does no good for the most vulnerable seniors.  I make $814 month before the adjustment. Just got a letter from the State SNAP benefits office saying they are taking the COLA amount away from me in food stamps.  What a joke this is.  This is really horrible.

The Senior Citizens League continues to seek a $1,400 stimulus payment to help Social Security recipients better address a few essential needs.  Because stimulus payments are treated as an advance refundable tax credit, the payments are not considered income and do not further exacerbate the problem of benefit adjustments when incomes rise in means tested programs.  If you haven’t already done so, you can join the effort by signing TSCL’s petition to Congress for a $1,400 stimulus check.