Seniors like John Scapaccino, 78, of Greenacres are bracing once again for little or no COLA — Cost of Living Adjustment — on Social Security’s 2017 menu.
“Not only myself but a lot of retirees are struggling,” he said.
The latest projections from federal officials range from a 0.7 percent increase down to zero. The latter would mark the second year in a row without a raise for roughly 40 million American retirees receiving Social Security checks. That would set an unwelcome precedent for seniors on fixed income.
Final word won’t come until fall, but for many seniors, no COLA is taking the fizz out of fixed-income budgets. Yes, fuel prices remain low, but other expenses such as out-of-pocket drug and health costs and the nation’s highest property insurance premiums in Florida often veer stubbornly off the low-inflation script.
Scapaccino notices prices going up at the grocery store even as overall inflation is supposed to be virtually standing still. He feels better off than many, and says he isn’t starving, but still has to watch for bargains to stretch his dollars.
“I wait for sales to go to two-for-one,” he said.
In 2016, Social Security offered zero COLA increase for the just the third time since 1975.
It’s a big deal because for almost two out of three seniors, Social Security accounts for at least half of their income, statistics show.
For one in three seniors, Social Security represents more than 90 percent of their income.
The average monthly benefit nationally is $1,223.
All of this has a bigger impact in South Florida than in most places. More than 22 percent of Palm Beach County’s 1.4 million residents are older than 65. compared to less than 19 percent statewide and about 14 percent nationally.
“Though people of all ages rely on it, its importance to older Americans — already under tremendous pressure from wage stagnation and shrinking pensions — is only likely to grow,” AARP chief executive officer Jo Ann Jenkins noted last month.
Low or zero cost-of-living increases can be good news for taxpayers — or at least, not appreciably hasten future days of reckoning that could force Congress to decide whether to cut benefits, raise taxes, or some combination of the two.
A board of trustees report projects Social Security can meet its obligations through 2034, the same as last year’s projection. AARP officials are calling for candidates in an election year to commit to keeping it solvent for the long term.
“Projected long run program costs are not sustainable under current program parameters,” GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan has warned.
But for many receiving benefits, the future they are worried about is now — and how they are going to balance household budgets.
Estelle Friedman, 81, of Greenacres says she depends on Social Security to live independently.