Social Security raises in jeopardy

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Mabel Gullott remembers when she started drawing social security.

"I watched how I spent and not too long after it they gave me a little raise," Gullott said. "And it sure helped, and I was so happy for that raise."

That raise is the annual Cost of Living Adjustment, or C.O.L.A., that uses inflation to change Social Security payments. Inflation is down this year. So, 2010 could be the first year since 1975 that the adjustment does not increase payments. By law, Social Security payments can't decrease from year to year.

Medicare could cause trouble for senior citizens, however. Many of them say the premiums they pay for that program increase every year.

Eleanor Hilliard depends on her Social Security raise to cover the added expense.

"I think the most important thing for me is the raise that we got could carry the increase in the Medicare premium," Hilliard said. "And as long as I could handle that increase, I'm still level. And now we're not going to get the raise, my question is, are they going to keep the Medicare premium down?"

Seniors like Hilliard will probably not get that break. Medicare premiums are expected to slightly increase this year. It could hurt seniors nationwide, many of whom have to manage mounting medical bills on an already modest budget.

"Inside that social security check, there's rent, there's food, there's medicine," explained Elizabeth Edwards. "There's very few of the little comforts that we like to have once in a while."

Cutting into that fund could force some seniors into a serious financial balancing act.

"We've got to pay our bills," Mary Williams said. "If we don't have the money, we can't pay them. I just didn't know what to think. What to do. What am I supposed to do?"

Some advocacy groups are encouraging Congress to raise Social Security benefits this year, despite the current economy. Until then, all these seniors can do is wait.

"There's not much you can do," Gullott said. "Have to wait and see what they do."

An official announcement about the status of Social Security raises should come in October.

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