Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Congress fails to approve critical support for seniors

Seniors across Colorado are facing greater hardship this year because Congress failed to approve a $250 one-time payment or a cost-of-living increase for Social Security beneficiaries. For many seniors, that means a loss of medication, a loss of food, a utility bill that can’t be paid and other erosion of economic security.

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the measure creating Social Security 75 years ago, he promised the government would offer “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against … poverty-stricken old age.” However in 2011 will be the second year in a row during which Social Security recipients will receive no increase in benefits to accommodate the rising cost of living. Congress also considered, and rejected, a one-time $250 payment to help cushion the blow.

Social Security provides a financial lifeline to elders, families and people with disabilities. Nationally, three in 10 adults age 65 and older rely on Social Security for more than 90 percent of their incomes, and most beneficiaries are women. In 2010, the average Social Security benefit for women amounted to just more than $12,500. In Colorado, there are 477,256 Social Security beneficiaries older than 65, according to the federal government.

Among Colorado’s Social Security beneficiaries older than 65, an average of 66,163 or 14 percent are living in poverty, an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found.

Social security payments are an economic bridge for all households moving toward economic security. Not only would a one-time payment or cost-of-living adjustment have supported elders as they struggled to meet basic needs, but a one-time $250 payment would have injected significant cash into the economy. When Congress approved a similar payment in 2009, in combination with a payment to Supplemental Security Insurance beneficiaries, the effect was creation or saving of 125,000 jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy will be examining elder economic security closely in 2011 as it publishes the Colorado Elder Index as a companion report to the 2011 Self-Sufficiency Standard. Watch for the release in summer 2011.

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