Legislative Update: March/April 2013

Legislative Update: March/April 2013

To Stop Chained COLA TSCL Maximizes Efforts

By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Analyst

Studies by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) have shown time and again that seniors aren't keeping up with the skyrocketing costs that they face. In fact, according to our most recent data, Social Security beneficiaries have lost 34 percent of their buying power since 2000! Still, many lawmakers are claiming that Social Security overpays seniors.

Since "fiscal cliff" talks arose last fall, deficit hawks on Capitol Hill have aimed to balance the deficit on the backs of seniors by "chaining" the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have chalked up the "chained" COLA to be a small technical correction to the formula used for measuring inflation, but TSCL fears that the change could have serious effects on seniors who are already struggling financially.  Such modifications compound over lengthy retirements. According to our projections, for a married couple with combined monthly benefits of $2,500 today, the "chained" COLA would reduce benefits by $88 per month after ten years – an amount that most seniors cannot afford to lose.

To stop the "chained" COLA from taking effect, TSCL has been working tirelessly to maximize grassroots advocacy and lobbying efforts. In late December, just before the "fiscal cliff" was set to hit, and again in February, we flooded Congressional offices with letters from the Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Larry Hyland. He urged lawmakers to leave Social Security cuts out of the negotiations, writing: "Millions of seniors rely on [Social Security] as their only source of income … they cannot afford to have their benefits cut."

In addition, in January, TSCL's legislative team – including former Congressman David Funderburk and Mrs. Betty Funderburk – trekked up to Capitol Hill to tell Members of Congress about the dangers of cutting benefits. They delivered an important message from Chairman Hyland, who late last year called the "chained" COLA "insidious." He said, "The switch is … enormously complicated to figure out, and it looks so small on paper – just 0.03 tenths of a percentage point.  But … within a decade it would have a significant financial punch that just keeps getting bigger."

Finally, we called upon our most active members and supporters to sign our "Social Security Bill of Rights" petition and to contact their elected officials. Many of them called their Members of Congress to tell them how even a small "trim," as deficit hawks call it, could end up costing them thousands over the course of a retirement.

Even though "fiscal cliff" and debt limit discussions are now in the past, the fight to protect the Social Security COLA is far from over. Throughout the 113th Congress, TSCL will continue to educate lawmakers about the long-term effects of the "chained" COLA, and we will continue to promote bills like the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act, and the Guaranteed 3 Percent COLA Act, both of which would go a long way in ensuring that seniors receive retirement security that they can rely on. Click here to learn more about the "chained" COLA or other issues affecting seniors.