Proposed bill would change Social Security COLA formula

Written on Mar 17, 2017

The U.S. government has a measure for seniors' living costs, but does not use it when giving Social Security recipients an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). A bill introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), is designed to correct this.

Garamendi introduced H.R. 1251 on Feb. 28. It would use the Consumer Price Index-Elderly (or CPI-E) measure rather than the traditional CPI for workers (or CPI-W).

“The fact that we do not use the CPI-E already is shocking. Instead, cost-of-living adjustments for seniors collecting Social Security and federal civilian or military retirement benefits are based on the costs experienced by ‘urban wage earners and clerical workers.’ They are not based upon the costs retired individuals experience. And that does not make a lot of sense,” said Richard G. Thissen, president of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, in a statement.

The 2017 COLA was 0.3%, while there was no COLA in 2016.

Meanwhile, seniors’ cost of living incurred grew 2.1% in 2016 and 0.6% in 2015. For the average federal retiree, using the CPI-E would have meant an increase of roughly $950 per year, the group says.

Garamendi’s bill, called the CPI-E Act of 2017, would change the CPI calculation to the CPI-E, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been calculating since 1982. CPI-E measures prices experienced by those 62 years of age and older.

From 1982 to 2014, it showed a yearly jump of 0.2% or more on average.

According to the employee group, this increase reflects the fact that seniors consume more health care, and such price increases “have far outpaced the increases for other consumer goods.”

According to the Senior Citizens League, if the CPI-E had been used over the past 25 years, Social Security recipients likely would have seen 9% higher yearly payouts – almost $30,000.

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