Thursday, October 8, 2009

Seniors Vow to Fight for Cost of Living Increase

By Conor Greene

Spurred by rumors that the Social Security Administration will not provide a cost of liv- ing increase in 2010, local officials and community leaders have launched a petition drive urging the federal government to provide seniors with this much-needed boost.

Concerns that there won’t be a cost of living increase next year stem from the presidential budget unveiled this year, which didn’t include funds to provide the annual boost meant to off-set rising prices, according to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills). An announcement is expected in the coming weeks, and this would mark the first time in three decades that an increase wasn’t pro- vided.

In response, Weiner gathered at the Howard Beach Senior Center on Monday with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio to announce the petition effort. “The price of many things has gone down, but many more [costs] are going up,” said Weiner, including health care, housing and food.

Particularly concerning, said Weiner, is that while the cost of living increase is supposed to be calculated each October using current prices, it was determined that it would remain flat months ago. Even more alarming, he said, is that next year’s increase has also been eliminated, more than a year in advance. That has led to the “notion that maybe the books are being cooked a little,” said Weiner. The focus now is “making sure this is on the up and up.”

To pressure the Social Security Administration to provide a cost of living increase, Gulluscio is spearheading the petition effort, which began in earnest at Monday’s event. He is calling for a “true COLA” that prevents seniors from having to choose between milk and medicine. “It’s a shame we have to deal with this during a recession,” he added.

While the cost of many non-necessities such as electronics have dropped as a result of the recession, Weiner noted that drops in cost haven’t applied to necessities. “The fact is, most seniors are not buying cell phones, they’re buying things they need – housing, food, medicine, [and] those things are going up,” he said. The COLA should be calculated using the “breadbasket of things seniors use” with regional differences taken into account, added the representative.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Social Security program has a huge surplus that is currently used to bring down the national debt. In addition, any increases in Medicare will come from a senior’s social security check, despite the lack of COLA increase. “On one hand they’re saying costs aren’t going up” while at the same time claiming that Medicare costs are rising, said Weiner.

Howard Beach senior Robert Drake said the lack of increase comes at a time when the city is “nickel and diming” its residents at every turn. “They even raised the price of parking your car. How can they say there is no COLA?” he asked. “Is that considered in COLA? No. If they don’t [provide an increase] then we will just have to struggle through it.”

Another local senior, Grade DiPippa, took exception with the federal government using the Social Security fund to help close the deficit. “That’s wrong,” she said.

Gulluscio vowed to continue the fight until the federal government changes course. “We will not take zero as an answer. There are no excuses for this situation,” he said. “This is not about politics - this is about real people making decisions.”

This year’s COLA increase was 5.8 percent for the more than 50 million individuals receiving Social Security. While the recession has kept inflation in check in some areas, seniors have still been hit hard with some growing costs including a six percent increase in rent-controlled apartments, a 1.4 percent rise in food prices, a seven percent average monthly increase in premiums for the Medicare prescription drug plans and a 10 percent increase in bus and subway fare for seniors.

No comments: