Millions of older Americans who rely on federal benefits will get a 1.7 percent increase in their monthly payments next year, the government announced Wednesday.
It's the third year in a row the increase will be less than 2 percent.
The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, affects payments to more than 70 million
The increase amounts to about
"The COLA helps beneficiaries of all ages maintain their standard of living, keeping many from falling into poverty by providing partial protection against inflation," said
The government announced the benefit increase Wednesday, when it released the latest measure of consumer prices. By law, the increase is based on inflation, which is well below historical averages so far this year.
For the first 35 years, the COLA was less than 2 percent only three times. Next year, the COLA will be less than 2 percent for the fifth time in six years. This year's increase was 1.5 percent, the year before it was 1.7 percent.
About 59 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get
The COLA also affects benefits for about 4 million disabled veterans, 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.
By law, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index for
The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year with prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up over the course of the year, benefits go up, starting with payments delivered in January.
"In the last several years we have had extremely low inflation," said economist
Advocates for seniors say the government's measure of inflation doesn't accurately reflect price increases faced by older Americans because they tend to spend more of their income on health care. The rise in medical costs has slowed in recent years, but people hit with serious illnesses can still see their individual costs soar.
However, federal retirees face a 3.8 percent increase in their health insurance premiums next year, said
"News of the cost-of-living adjustment for the coming year always is eagerly awaited by the countless Americans who rely on the increase to keep up with the rising price of food, housing, transportation and medical care," Beaudoin said in a statement. "However, despite the partial relief this COLA will provide, the announcement is a reminder that our method for calculating the increasing cost of goods and services is out of sync with the reality faced by millions of federal (retirees),
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