Seniors Can Expect Small Increase in Their 2020 Social Security COLA

Published in the Woonsocket Call on Oct. 27, 2019

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announces Oct. 10 that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 69 million Americans will increase 1.6 percent in 2020 (Some recipients receive both Social Security and SSI benefits).

Social Security and SSI recipients will be notified about their new benefit amount by mail in early December. This COLA notice can also be viewed online through their my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

According to SSA, the 1.6 percent COLA increase will begin with benefits payable to more than 63 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2020. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin December 31, 2019. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as calculated by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase from $132,900 to $137,700, says SSA.

The earnings limit for workers who are younger than “full” retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) will increase to $18,240. SSA will deduct $1 from benefits for each $2 earned over $18,240.

The earnings limit for people turning age 66 in 2020 will increase to $48,600. SSA will deduct $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $48,600 until the month the worker turns age 66.)

There is no limit on earnings for workers who are “full” retirement age or older for the entire year.

COLA Not Keeping Up with Rising Cost of Living

Over the years, Social Security’s COLA has not provided financial protection against rising costs, charge aging advocacy groups.

Social Security checks in 2019 are as much as 18 percent lower due to the impact of extremely low COLAs over the past 10 years, says an analysis recently released by the Arlington, Virginia-based The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). TSCL’s Social Security policy analyst, Mary Johnson authored this analysis.

Johnson’s analysis noted that from 2000 to 2010, COLAs routinely averaged 3 percent
annually. People who have been receiving Social Security checks since 2019, have only seen a COLA higher than 2,8 percent one time (in 2012), she said, noting that Social Security benefits have lost 33 percent of buying power since 2000.

Johnson’s findings reported that in 2010, 2011, and 2016 there was no COLA payable at all and, in 2017, the COLA was just 0.03 percent. However, in 2018, the COLA was 2 percent, but rising Part B premiums consumed the entire increase for roughly half of all beneficiaries.

Calls for Strengthening the COLA

According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the upcoming COLA change will give a whopping $24 per month increase for the average beneficiary. With Medicare Part B premiums expected to rise around $8 next year, the net cost-of-living adjustment for most seniors will be only $16 per month. The new COLA brings the average monthly retirement benefit up to $1,503 — it’s just a $288 yearly raise for seniors living on fixed incomes.

NCPSSM notes that roughly half of America’s seniors rely on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their income, and 1 in 4 depending on the program for at least 90 percent of their income, the 2020 COLA increase does not go very far in helping these recipients pay their bills. A $16 per month probably won’t cover typical expenses, such as the cost of a single prescription copay, a month’s medical supplies, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment, adds the Washington, DC- advocacy group whose goal is to protect Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s ironic that as billionaires and big corporations continue to profit from the $1.5 trillion in Trump/GOP tax cuts, America’s seniors are to get by with a meager $24 monthly raise,” says Max Richtman in a statement after SSA announced the 2020 COLA increase. NCPSSM’s President and CEO. “The negligible 2020 COLA illustrates why seniors need a more accurate formula for calculating the impact of inflation on their Social Security benefits. For years, we have urged the government to adopt the CPI-E (Consumer Price Index for the Elderly), which reflects the spending priorities of seniors, including health care, as opposed to the current formula based on younger urban wage earners’ expenses,” says Richtman.

If the CPI-E were adopted, beneficiaries would see a 6 percent overall increase in benefits over 20 years compared to the current formula used, which yielded a zero cost-of-living adjustment three times during the past decade — and a mere 0.3 percent in 2017, says Richtman, noting that health care costs have increased about 6 percent in 2019 alone.

“The prices of the most commonly prescribed drugs for seniors on Medicare rose ten times the rate of inflation from 2013-2018. The cost of senior living facilities is growing at 3 percent annually – which adds up quickly over time,” adds Richtman.

Adds Webster Phillips, NCPSSM’s Senior Legislative Representative, “COLAs are out of sync with seniors’ actual expenses. Retirees have been living on very tight cost-of-living adjustments for a number of years now, which forces them to make hard decisions about their monthly budgets.”

In a statement, AARP chief executive officer Jo Ann Jenkins said, “Social Security’s annual COLA amount typically does not keep pace with all the increases in living expenses that most seniors face, including the costs of housing, food, transportation and, especially, health care and prescription drugs. AARP’s recent Rx Price Watch report found that retail drug prices increased by twice the rate of inflation during 2017, and have exceeded the inflation rate for at least 12 consecutive years,” she says.

“AARP will continue our advocacy for bipartisan solutions to help ensure the long-term solvency of the Social Security program, as well as adequate benefits for recipients. We will also continue to fight for lower health care and prescription drug costs, which are eating up a growing share of Social Security benefits,” adds Jenkins.

TSCL’s Mary Johnson says that her group calls on Congress to require a minimum COLA of no less than 3 percent every year, even in years when inflation falls below that amount. “Strengthening the COLA,” she says, “would help slow the drain of retirement savings and help keep older Americans out of poverty.”

For information about Social Security benefits and claiming strategies, those approaching retirement age may visit AARP’s Social Security Resource Center, at https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/.

Concerns Expressed About Savings and Social Security Covering Retiree Expenses

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 5, 2019

What resolution did you make as new year’s eve approached Dec. 31, 2018? You might have mentioned losing weight, or improving your health by eating healthy foods and regularly exercising. Better budgeting and saving money for retirement might have even made your short list, too.

According to a new national AARP study, reported in Financial Resolutions, Mistakes and Accomplishments, 83 percent of the 1,500 adults (age 35 and over), participating in an online survey, say they made a new year’s resolution or goal within the past five years. Over half (52 percent) say that saving money was their top resolution pick, followed by losing weight (43 percent), increasing fitness (40 percent), and getting better organized (40 percent).

Saving Money Most Popular 2019 Resolution

Sixty percent of those surveyed say polled noted that their 2019 savings resolution included a mix of short-term and long-term goals. Adults ages 35-39 (75 percent) are more likely to have made this resolution, compared to the respondents ages 50-54 (50 percent) and those ages 65 and over (45 percent). The most common goals mentioned by these poll respondents were building of an emergency fund (45 percent), paying off debt (37 percent), saving for vacation (41 percent), building up retirement fund (35 percent), and making home improvements (31 percent)

Just two months into 2019, when AARP’s poll was taken in March, 43 percent of the respondents who made a savings resolution for 2019, expressed concern that they were already at risk of not meeting this goal, tying their failure to unexpected expenses (61 percent), covering basic expenses (46 percent), or a drop in their income (20 percent) due to unemployment or a business slowdown.

The survey respondents say the most common financial mistake relates to not saving (19 percent), followed by buying on credit (10 percent), accumulating too much credit card debt (10 percent) and spending too much (8 percent).

By gender, when compared to men, women are especially likely to say their mistakes were related to credit cards and loans. Men point to mistakes related to making poor stock market decisions, bad investments or not investing.

The AARP survey findings reveal that making financial mistakes can have a lasting impact, too. Over 55 percent say that their mistake is still affecting their current financial situation.

Fifty-nine percent of those polled by AARP said it was only “somewhat likely” to “not at all likely” that the combination of their savings, investments and Social Security benefits would be sufficient to cover their financial needs throughout retirement. This included more women (67 percent) than men (51 percent). Only 41 percent of all respondents said their retirement assets are “very” or “extremely” likely to pay for their needs through retirement.
Over 35 percent of those who are uncertain whether they have enough money to live in retirement attribute their doubts to either not knowing how much money they will need in retirement (31 percent) or not knowing how much to save (9 percent), notes the AARP survey findings.

The AARP survey is in line with a recent updated report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found most households approaching retirement have low amounts of savings. When polled about their “biggest financial mistakes” in the AARP survey, respondents said their most common mistakes related to not saving enough.

“The situation is serious, but not one that can’t be improved,” said AARP Financial Ambassador Jean Chatzky, in a statement released with the report. “No matter your circumstance, there are resources available to help almost anyone take simple steps to improve your finances, start a savings plan and get into the habit of putting away money on a regular basis,” says Chatzky.

Education combined with learning simple steps to assist in saving more money are key help people make more informed decisions that result in either saving inadequately or accumulating debt, especially with credit cards.

Check Out These Savings and Planning Tools

Do you need to beef up on your knowledge on ways to better save for your retirement? If so, check out these websites…

AceYourRetirement.org, a website sponsored by AARP and the Ad Council, breaks down the retirement savings process into easy, actionable steps. Just answer a few questions about your savings and goals, and you will receive a personalized action plan that highlights three practical next steps.

AARP’s Money Essentials webpage offers advice about saving, living on a budget, managing debt and other topics.

The Social Security Resource Center provides answers to questions about when to claim, how to maximize benefits and other Social Security essentials.

A new AARP podcast, Closing the Savings Gap™, hosted Chatzky profiles women who are facing a retirement savings gap and matches each with a financial planner who then helps them solve common challenges in retirement planning.

AARP’s website also provides work, career and employment resources to help you maximize your earning potential.

For full access to the 38 page research report, Financial Resolutions, Mistakes and Accomplishments, go to http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2019/financial-resolutions-mistakes-accomplishments.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00309.001.pdf.

For more information, contact S. Kathi Brown of AARP Research at skbrown@aarp.org or G. Oscar Anderson at ganderson@aarp.org.

NCPSSM Says It Pays Off to Delay Claiming Social Security Benefits

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 28, 2019

You have an eight-year window to choose to sign up for Social Security to collect your monthly benefit check. Some may be forced to collect Social Security at age 62, because of their finances, health and lifestyle. Others make a decision to wait until either age 66 (if you were born after 1954) or 67 (or born in 1960 or after) to collect full monthly benefits. While some even choose to wait until age 70, if they financially can, to get the maximum program benefits.

For this age 64-year old writer and to many of my older peers in their 60s, determining the right age to collect Social Security can be confusing at best. Will my decision, to make less by collecting at age 62 or more by waiting until full benefits are paid at age 66 or 67 or waiting to receive maximum benefits at age 70, provide me with adequate retirement income to pay my bills into my eighties or even nineties? The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) hopes to assist older workers to make the right decision for them through a new educational campaign, Delay & Gain.

Educational Campaign Kicks Off in Five Cities

This month, the NCPSSM kicks off a new educational campaign, Delay & Gain, to urge workers in their 60s to opt for more money, up to thousands of dollars per year in additional Social Security benefits, by working at least until their normal retirement age 66 or 67. Filing for Social Security at age 62 locks you into a lower benefit, permanently. You are not entitled to 100 percent of the benefit calculated from your earnings history unless you apply at your age 66 or 67
Launched by the Washington, DC-based NCPSSM, Delay & Gain includes a six-figure ad campaign targeting five U.S. cities where workforce participation is high, but too many workers are losing money by choosing to retire early.

According to NCPSSM, more than one-third of American workers claim Social Security at the early retirement age of 62, lowering their monthly benefits for the rest of their lives. In a recent survey of American workers, nearly half of respondents did not know that their monthly Social Security benefits will be reduced by claiming at the earliest eligible age of 62 — and boosted up to 25 percent for waiting until the full retirement age of 66. Seniors who delay claiming until age 70 receive an even larger financial bump — up to 44 percent more than if they had filed for benefits early. For the average beneficiary that can mean a difference of roughly $1,000 per month in extra income.

“We understand that not all workers have the option of working longer due to poor health, caregiving demands, age discrimination or physically demanding work. But we consistently hear from seniors who retired early because they were sick and tired of working, who soon discovered that they were more sick and tired of not having enough money in retirement,” says Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s President and CEO in an April 8 statement announcing this new initiative.

Many Benefits of Working Longer

The risks of running out of money in later life are very evident, says NCPSSM. “Some 8 percent of seniors under 70 live in poverty. But the poverty rate jumps to 12 percent for those over 85. Older women are in greater jeopardy than men, because they tend to live longer, saved less for retirement and lower Social Security benefits. Some 11 percent of all elderly women live in poverty compared to 8 percent of older men,” says NCPSSM, whose chief mission is to protect Social Security and Medicare.

“Because Social Security helps keep seniors out of poverty — and because benefits are adjusted for inflation — it’s imperative that workers maximize their future benefits,” says NCPSSM in its statement. “Retirees rely more and more on Social Security as they age. One-half of all retirees receive most of their income from Social Security. But 42 percent of seniors over age 80 depend on Social Security for almost all their cash income. With one in four 65-year-olds expected to live past 90, it’s evident why workers should try to reap the highest possible monthly benefits. As they say, you can outlive other sources of income, but not Social Security,” notes the aging advocacy group.

The Delay & Gain campaign was rolled-out in Baltimore, Maryland, Davenport, Iowa. Detroit, Michigan, Louisville, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 8, 2019. NCPSSM’s campaign will reach out to older workers through radio ads, videos, social media and mobile billboards while providing educational material for distribution and publication to Human Resource departments, community centers and libraries, and financial institutions. The campaign website, delayandgain.org offers additional resources including Ask Us, a free service where Social Security experts answer personal questions about benefits, filing a claim and more.

“We want seniors to be able to pursue a comfortable retirement, with the least amount of stress about paying the bills,” says Richtman. “This campaign will show older workers how to get there,” he notes.

Simply put, NCPSSM’s Delay & Gain initiative, can provide older workers with a simple strategy for planning their retirement, one that just might make their retirement years more comfortable.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Poll Findings Give Thumbs Down to Overhauling Social Security and Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 19, 2017

As the Trump Administration completes its first month in office, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), lawmakers and union groups gathered to release the findings of a new poll that showed a majority of Americans do not buy into the GOP’s strategy to “fundamentally alter Social Security, the nation’s retirement and disability program and Medicare, the federal health care program for older Americans, and they oppose benefits cuts. Eight out of ten poll recipients favor living the tax cap to fixing Social Security and financially strengthening the program, say the researchers.

The poll findings were released last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol by NCPSSM’s Max Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.

Don’t Tamper with Our Social Security

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, at the press conference. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril,” he says.

NCPSSM’s poll findings, of 800 likely voters nationwide, found that 79 percent of the survey respondent’s favor expanding Social Security benefits and 74 percent support paying for it by gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above $ 127,000, including majorities across party lines.

The recently released poll found that 77 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93 percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and they also overwhelmingly opposed raising Medicare’s eligibility age. Seventy five percent favor Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

Meanwhile, sixty nine percent of the respondents oppose reducing benefits for workers whose average annual lifetime earnings today are 60 thousand dollars or more, again including majorities across party lines. Seventy-three percent of Democrats oppose this, as do 70 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents.

According to the NCPSSM poll, respondents expressed strong concerns about Social Security not being there when they retire (64 percent) and not being able to pay for costly prescription drug (65 percent). Roughly the same number (63 percent) say they are worried about having enough money in retirement to be financially secure. Just 53 percent say they are worried about not being able to retire when they want for financial reasons. These concerns reflect voters to strong support for protecting each program, and for policies that would increase benefits and reduce the price of prescription drugs, say the researchers.

Researchers also took a look at how respondents prefer to communicate with the Social Security Administration (SSA). They found that 65 percent express a preference to communicate with a “live person” person at the agency (26 percent through a toll free number) if they want to apply for benefits, replace a lost Social Security card, or had questions about their earnings records. About 31 percent prefer getting their information from the SSA’s website, they said.

Finally, NCPSSM’s national poll indicated that respondents prefer to receive their Social Security statement by mail. Overall 64 percent prefer to receive this by mail and 32 percent prefer an electronic statement by email.

Circling the Wagons to Protect Social Security and Medicare

“Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Democratic Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Congressman Larson says that the NCPSSM poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits. “Social Security is not an entitlement; its insurance we paid for,” says the Democratic Congressman, calling on President Trump at the press conference to protect and expand Social Security.

Cardenas made an emotional plea at the press conference to preserve Social Security and Medicare by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare. It’s a matter of dignity and life,” he said. The Democratic Congressman strongly opposes GOP proposals to privatize the nation’s social insurance programs. “Do we value dignity? Do we value life? Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you,” he told the press conference attendees.

Witold Skwierczynski, of the American Federation of Government Employees, came to the press conference with a dire warning: Expect customer SSA service to retirees to get worst in the coming years. Staffing in field offices has been cut by 2, 900 (10 percent) since 2010 while work increased 12 percent, he noted, expecting the agency’s workload to go up 32 percent through 2025 due to the retiring baby boomer generation.

Skwierczynski expects Trump’s recent Continuing Resolution to freeze the hiring of federal employees to further increase waiting times at SSA field offices and for 800 number callers.

“President Trump is a hotel man. If he ran his hotels like SSA he would have another bankruptcy. None of his customers would tolerate a 3 to 4 hour wait for room service. However, SSA customers wait hours, days, weeks, months and years for SSA to process their business. That’s not acceptable,” says Skwierczynski.

Nancy Olumekor, Retiree Department American Postal Workers Union, came calling for Congressional support to improve Social Security and Medicare. “Our members did not vote to destroy Social Security and Medicare to replace them with vouchers. Postal workers are opposed to increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

As President Trump continues to make major changes in federal tax, environmental, labor, education and health policy, NCPSSM and other national aging groups are gearing up for the battle of the century – saving the existing Social Security and Medicare programs for current beneficiaries and future generations. If President Trump and GOP lawmakers view NCPSSM’s poll results as “fake news” they do so at their own risk. Actions to overhaul these two popular domestic programs will send the nation’s voters to the polls in four years. Tampering with Social Security and Medicare may well be hazardous to your political career.

NCPSSM’s poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017, was sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers

A Couple’s Unofficial Guide to (Surviving) Retirement

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 18, 2016

Some people will tell you that nothing is for certain in life but death and taxes. But, Author Nora Hall adds another truism for us to think about. That is, retirement guarantees that couples are going to face new issues in their relationship. No ifs, ands or buts.

Hall, a 72-year North Kingston resident, recalls, “We were surprised that retirement was a bigger adjustment than we thought it would be.”

The freelance writer began researching the joys and frustrations of retirement when her husband Art, a former president of a manufacturing company, retired and they saw the need for major adjustments in their relationship.

Sharing Retirement Woes

As a new retiree, Hall admitted she was unsure of how to deal with these life stage changes and immediately began to seek out information on adjusting to a retirement marriage. Since she found no book or articles on the topic, Hall began to interview other retirees. As she learned from their personal experiences, she realized that there was a need for a book.

“I never thought that I would ever write this book,” says Hall. But she ultimately penned the 113-page paperback book, entitled, Survive Your Husband’s Retirement, published by Narragansett-based EBook Bakery.

“This book was just the natural extension of my freelance writing,” she notes, adding that it took over three years to write and publish the first edition of her book. The second edition only took one year to produce because she had already accumulated a lot of the research.

However, Hall admitted, “I was a lot fussier about the look and feel of this book.”

Hall notes that her skills in interviewing others and writing about their messages and concerns came from jobs throughout her professional career where she wrote copy for appeal letters sent to potential donors to the New England Colleges Fund and then the VNA in Massachusetts. She began her career as an elementary school teacher before moving to arts administration where she coordinated the Artist in Residence and the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Award Programs in Massachusetts.

In the process of talking with hundreds of retired woman, sometimes even their husbands, Hall gleaned from these interviews five areas (a husband’s tendency to be bossy, always there, dependent, angry or to never listen) that caused conflict in the retirement relationship along with solutions that these couples discovered that ultimately would maintain harmony in their marriage. She decided that she would share this information with other retired couples by writing a book.

Tips to Fix Your Relation

Hall’s first edition released in 2013 (along with a second edition, published last month, which provides more stories and couple coping tips) goes far beyond simple identification of issues. In addition, she provides reasons behind the common feelings many men experience when they first leave their life’s work and the potential conflicts many couples face.

In her books, she also offers the solutions older couples shared with her that provide examples for newly retired couples to implement as they struggle to find harmony in this new life stage. Most of all Hall strives to help couples see that they are not alone and that laughter is the best solution for all of us to have and details some quirks that need to be tolerated, ignored or altered.

Hall observes “A lot of people initially dread retirement but when they work at making it a positive experience it can really be a wonderful time in your life. The more we develop our companionship as a couple the difficulties we face are more manageable.”

So, what is the secret for older couples ultimately having a fulfilling relationship?

“Communication and Compromising,” can be key to fixing a retiree’s relationship difficulties, says Hall.

Spreading the Gospel

Hall is focused on getting the word out about her book by speaking at public libraries, churches, and women groups and Rotary Clubs throughout the Ocean State and even at the Ocean Life Long Institute, an adult learning program based at University of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island author is even planning a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, to spread the gospel that a couple’s retirement “can be an exciting new chapter in their life.”

Hall received her undergraduate degree from Dunbarton College, Washington, D.C. and a Masters in Education from Boston University. In addition to her Survive your Husband’s Retirement, Hall blogs regularly on her website, and offers workshops on adjusting to retirement. Her family consists of two grown children and their spouses, six grandchildren and one, now seasoned, retired husband. She and her husband Art moved to Wickford, R.I. in 2000.

Contact Nora to schedule workshops or raise a retirement question via email at nora@survieve yourhusbandsretirement.com. To purchase a copy of the second edition of Survive your Husband’s Retirement, go to Amazon.com.