Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders gave its support to federal legislation introduced by U.S. Congressmen Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew that would increase the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security recipients.
"HR 8600, the COVID-19 Emergency Social Security Cost of Living Increase Act, is aimed at helping seniors and other Social Security recipients keep up with rising costs they experience in their daily lives, especially in health care," said U.S. Rep. Smith in addressing the Board of Freeholders at their Oct. 21 meeting. "The COLA recently announced does not reflect the costs seniors cope with every day. It is unfair, and the COVID-19 Emergency Social Security Cost of Living Increase Act will help remedy that unfairness."
At the request of Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, Chairman of the Office of Senior Services, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of HR 8600.
"I am extremely thankful for the immediate response received from Congressman Smith as we struggle with ways to have the annual Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security actually reflect the current state of the economy where prices are going up and financial help is not," Vicari said. "In Ocean County, where almost 200,000 senior citizens live, it's unconscionable to just accept an increase of 1.3 percent in the 2021 Social Security benefits.
"Clearly that is far too little to allow our seniors to keep a roof over their head, food on their table, cover the costs of utilities and purchase life-saving medications," Vicari said. "Social Security is not a hand-out. Our seniors have paid into this their entire working lives."
The Smith-Van Drew proposal would increase the 2020 COLA to 3 percent in 2020, and no less than 3 percent more in 2021.
With the average Social Security payment to individuals being $1,514 a month, or $18,168 annually, the announced SSA increase would only provide a $236 COLA for 2021. The Smith-Van Drew bill would increase the average COLA to $545 for both 2020 (retroactively) & 2021, or an estimated $1,090, over two years.
"COVID-19 has not only disproportionately harmed senior citizens - causing death to many especially in nursing homes - but has devastated them economically as well," Smith said.
The legislation would also reform the formula for calculating annual COLA increases by using a senior consumer price index (senior CPI) beginning in 2021.
Social Security COLAs are currently based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) which excludes items like taxes, such as state and federal income taxes, and does not accommodate the disproportionate impact of health costs on seniors. HR 8600 would provide a 3 percent increase retroactively for 2020 to address the COVID-19 impact, as well as at least a 3 percent increase in 2021. It would also permanently address the shortcoming of basing annual COLAs on the standard CPI-W in favor of a "Senior CPI."
Vicari said the 1.3 percent increase announced by the Social Security Administration does not come close to matching rising costs.
"In the past few months alone we have seen Jersey Central Power & Light raise their rates by almost $10 a month. That was followed by toll increases on the Garden State Parkway and a 10-cent per gallon hike in the gas tax. How much more will our seniors be forced to endure," Vicari asked.
Besides these rising costs, the pandemic has led to higher food costs.
"Both food and essential household goods like paper towels have increased by more than 1.3 percent in the past year," he said. "In no way does this cost-of-living increase take into account the continued impact of COVID-19."
After learning of the 1.3 percent increase, Vicari immediately penned letters to Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, along with the county's Congressional delegation demanding additional funding for Social Security.
"Congressman Chris Smith responded immediately," Vicari said. "He realizes how important it is that our seniors receive an ample benefit from a program most have paid into all of their working days."