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October 16, 2009

Don't give $250 bonus to Social Security recipients

There are Americans who could use a one-time, $250 bonus appropriated by Congress and approved by the president. But it's very difficult to argue that Social Security recipients should be at the top of the list. Seniors didn't get their cost-of-living increase for Social Security this year because the inflation rate was negative. Now Washington is talking about giving them an increase anyway. Why? Hard to tell. But, heck, we're handing out billions to everybody else, anyway, so why not pander to grandma, too?

The bonus would cost $13 billion. President Obama has not said how it would be paid for. In any event it's a bad idea. This is the wealthiest generation of senior citizens in history. In addition to providing Social Security, the government covers their medical costs through Medicare. Last year's cost-of-living increase for Social Security was 5.8 percent. How many workers do you know who got 5.8 percent raises last year? Social Security checks automatically keep up with inflation. Many, many workers are falling behind inflation.The senior-citizen poverty rate in the United States has fallen to about 10 percent from more than 30 percent in the 1950s.

Washington needs to stop handing out money like candy. But if it's going to write checks, how about directing them to the 1 in 10 impoverished senior citizens instead of to every single Social Security beneficiary? Or to children in poverty (34 percent of all kids 18 and under in 2007, according to the Census Bureau)? Or to workers displaced by foreign trade?

In a few years, inflation will be back and so will the COLA increases for Social Security. But I doubt seniors or anybody else will think that's a good thing, either.

Posted by Jay Hancock at 8:00 AM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Taxes


Hey Jay, I hope you are never on social security! Its the last time I read your column or buy a newspaper with your column in it!

Your comment: " the wealthiest generation of seniors" really floored me! You have got to be kidding! There are more seniors that are stuggling due to the loss of their "portfolio investments" from working all their lives only to find that it is gone. And now they have to live on SS. Maybe you are a lucky one to have such a great income!

If the federal gov't can give Warren Buffett and William Gates, two of the wealthiest people on the planet,600 million to buy more banks then why not seniors?

I have read a few articles on this topic and I think it is insulting to the employed in this country that seniors are "crying in their Geritol" because they will not receive COLA for 2010.

How many seniors wanted to return all or part of their 2009 5.8% COLA? How many felt the '09 COLA was too much? I didn't get COLA or a pay raise for '09 and I won't get any in '10!

Do the seniors know what funds their SS payments? SS funds come from FICA taxes levied on those people who have a job, and we all know that more and more people are losing their jobs; thus less FICA taxes. The proposed $13 billion will be added to an already out of control national deficit!

SS benefits fulfill their basic mandate of keeping seniors out of poverty, and those benefits are tied to inflation. The cost of living has risen for everyone, not only for seniors. I've been economzing for years and I have a job! Seniors living on SS only benefits should be economizing all the time too.

I see this issue as another example of seniors wanting "what they want, when they want it, regardless of the cost to other". I agree with Jay, give the proposed $250 subsidy to impoverished seniors, children in poverty, or even to feed the hungy and homeless!

Jay is absolutely correct. If there is no inflation now and the COLA''s for SS recipients is tied to inflation can anyone out there say just why there should be a COLA this year for SS? And please none of this baloney about Seniors being on a fixed income. People who are working are also on a fixed income unless they get a raise ever year which, especially now, very few do. And yet except for this year people on SS get a raise every year with COLA.

In other words, since you ain't gettin' a cut, you're against it. That's what you're really trying to say no matter how you say it.

I agree with Jay. I receive SS and $250 is only 1% of my benefits. Big woop! I don't need it. Give it to those who do, in the form of a tax rebate with an income qualifier.

I am certain current SS recipients paid their FICA obligations and are now qualified to collect what is due to them. It's amazing how they "Government" continue to move the bar. This fund was supposed to be kept in a "trust" similiar to an escrow. Meaning, it was not intended to be used "Abused" with the general spendatures of government. If I could I would opt out! Where is the Supreme Court? How can the governement continue this PONZI scheme?

The Social Security cost of living adjustment is messed up!

Most people collecting SS now barely paid anything into it, compared to what people contributing to the economy now have to shell out (now it is nearly 14% of income on both sides).

The vast majority of SS recipients are selfish and don't realize they are getting more than they ought because they can control politicians.

If you paid 2% of your income into SS don't expect those of us who now pay far more for you to sit in front of a TV 4 hours a day.

A $250 cut would be more appropriate, unless, of course, they are a vegtable to work.

Funny how when the rules benefit seniors they get more of a raise then the the rest of us, but when the rules say no increase (like most of the rest of us) they cry about it?
Maybe I could stop paying FICA since I don't want them to get my money and I'm unlikely to collect? Oh wait, I have to follow the rules and pay in.

Hey-- maybe I am looking at this differently since I am a disabled person on social security. My check barely covers my expenses and the medical aspect of social security is a joke. SS takes out $107 a month for medical expenses and does not pay for the co-pays another expense that comes directly out. Medications are not covered nor are doctors visits. The $764 a month that I see in my account every month equals out to be just about $23.00 for the month. Doctors visits are for heart condition, diabetes and asthma and god forbid anything unexpected to happen run (just in doctors alone) $280.00 a month if I have 3 appointments a week twice a month. Prescriptions are between $180.00 to $245.00 a month because they are not covered by social security. Medicare is supplemental and it is around a 100 a month- so therefore if I have anything left a month-- it goes to food.

I am one of the lucky ones-- my husband does work and has a decent job and covers me on medical benefits but still it does not cover the differences by Social Security. If we didn't have his income and my supplement-- we would be screwed in a hand basket.

So maybe instead of complaining about the seniors and the disabled and children that are recieving Social Security--recieving a stimulus of $250.00.

The big issue we should be looking at is the government screwing us with the health package that it is trying to push down our throats. The only people that it will benefit will be the unemployed or unemployable, and the people that chose welfare to pay their bills.

We on social security-- worked to earn our money-- we should be able to live on what we earned!

I paid into social security for allof my adult life and with my first job at 15. I just want my fair share and be able to pay my bills instead of feeling like a leach on someone else.

There are two sides to every story !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When it comes to money, retirees, such as myself, feel vulnerable to forces we don't understand and can't control. We feel that life has cornered us. I'll never forget the hopeless look I saw on an elderly woman's face after a pharmacist had given her some obviously bad news. Probably the cost of a drug had increased, or her insurance no longer covered what she needed. The pharmacist said to the woman, "Maybe you'd like to sit down." The woman looked as though she'd like to just disappear -- go poof. There was no reason to believe that tomorrow would be any better. There was every reason to believe it would be worse.

Wow Jay, I've never met anyone who can be so entirely ignorant and still make such a high salary. You give me hope for my future as someone who has a couple of years left in college and until now, no idea how I was going to get a job or pay my student loans off in this God-forsaken economy of ours.

Additionally, I wish our government WOULD "pander to grandma," since mine is unable to work due to emphysema, lives alone in a single-wide trailer and barely gets enough Social Security to feed herself, yet doesn't qualify for welfare or food stamps. Maybe in your infinite wisdom you can tell us why she should have to apply for these things in the first place.

I am 69 yo widow and sitting at WORK reading these postings. I work part-time so i can pay my rent/food. During the time of so called windfall for us seniors, I was busy raising a family and trying to survive on my husband's meager military enlisted pay. Not able to amass great wealth and stock portfolios,I am struggling now. Due to a low income, I was forced to rent in a substandard apartment (3x's rent must equal monthly income). Since I am still paying into SS and medicare, I am NOT taking from others. Also told I am too wealthy to receive any sort of assistance. Maybe if i were an illegal or a liar, I could find help, but since i am an honest person who has lived by the rules, I am being Screwed!

Bottom line: COLA is for inflation. Inflation rate is negative. SS recipients should be thankful there isn't a negative adjustment made to their checks. That would be the fair thing to do.

This is not socialism. SS was NEVER intended to pay all of the bills. I understand that there are many people out there who have fallen on hard times but the great majority of people CHOSE to retire. The american workers should not have to pay for your decision to leave work to fish three days a week.

Jay, I agree 100%. I wish the leaders of this country (specifically this awful state) thought more like you.

The very first comment on here at 9:27AM made by Charles hits this issue on the head and explains why our politicians will never make the real structural changes to bring entitlement spending inline. I thanks Jay for taking a highly unpopular, but right in the long run position.

You want the truth? Do you think you can handle the truth? The truth is SS either needs major benefits cuts, major tax increases, or RAISE THE RETIREMENT AGE TO 71 if it is to stand any chance of longterm solvency. Anything short of one of those 3 moves is delaying and compounding/exacerbating the inevitable. There's a reason why much of Europe, South America, and Asia live multiple generations to a roof: it saves money. We need to start doing it as a nation. But nobody wants to hear that. We are on a collision course for national insolvency and a dramatically, forced, reduced standard of living.

I don't believe everyone should be entitled to the $250. There should be a means test perhaps $50,000. If a couple can't live on 50K they are over their head in debt. Whoever said there is no inflation must be shopping on another planet.

I cannot believe what I am reading. Hello, remember what Social Security is. It is my earned money from working since I was 14. I am permanently disabled and always have tried to work to the point where I have spent more than half a year in the hospital. Before running off your mouth why don't you look at the Medicare Part D increases for 2010. My medication costs are more than my SS check. Medicare has a deductible of $1068 every 60 days. Instead of assuming that Social Security is about rich couch sitting seniors maybe you should get off your butt and do some real research. I could write better articles than you and that article merits no respect. It is pure ignorance of the facts. If you don't want to do the research, just ask. I am a researcher and am on Social Security. I am willing to donate a hand so you can get things straight.

The inflation index increased by 0.4 percentage points in August. But the overall change in consumer prices this year is still negative and it appears unlikely that there will be any COLA increases in military retirement pay or Social Security benefits in 2010. It’s important to note, however, that if the inflation index change from July through September (the period used under current law to set the following year’s COLA) remains in negative territory, pay and benefits are not reduced – they will just not change from 2009. There are three bills in the House that would provide a COLA nonetheless: HR 3536 would provide a one-time payment of $150; HR 3557 would provide a COLA equal to the average COLA of the past 10 years; and HR 3572 would provide a 2.9% COLA equal to the pay raise for Federal employees. It is too early to tell whether any of these will gain traction and have a chance of passing, especially if the actual change in the cost of living remains lower for the year.

Write to your Congressman to support H. R. 3557... H.R. 3557 would increase monthly social security payments by $35.00 with a total of $435.00 for the year...that's better than getting a one time bonus of $250.00.
Thanks for the opportunity of sharing this information.

Another vote in support of Jay and NO on the "bonus".

For those that the $250 could be of really critical importance far more than this sop should be done but for the majority of SS recipients that $5 per week will make no significant difference in their household budgets.

Whether you are for or against the $250 payment, it is going to happen. So get over it and gripe about something else.I am so tired of people complaining about some older americans getting a payment. Complain about the big corporations getting bail outs. If you have time to set in front of a computer and complain, maybe you need to get another job.

After reading most of these comments, it's obvious that the people against any kind of increase are young.They believe seniors are getting a free ride. As some have said, they had to work and pay into the system.
The other thing I want to comment on is the person who believes people should work until 71. That would be great if all jobs were desk jobs.
I personally do not believe people should have to work until they die.
Of course we all know the young live their live like they will never die. So you can understand where they are coming from.

I and my wife are both eligible for the $250.00 bonus.I think it is ludicrous.
We're both in our mid-seventies, have a
comfortable income and really don't need it.
Why not have an income cut off level?
Give the funds, if they must to people who really need it.In the community I live there are very few if any who need it or they wouldn't be able to live here.
This is just another indication of the government throwing money around with out regard to need.
A charity will benefit from our bonuses thats a positive

Your assertion that “the government covers their medical costs through Medicare” certainly makes it sound like older Americans are getting a free ride. In fact, people on Medicare spend an average of 30 percent of their income on health care costs – six times greater than what those with employer coverage spend. And health care costs continue to rise dramatically, far outpacing general inflation. Rising Medicare premiums mean that without a COLA, many Social Security recipients will actually see their checks decrease in 2010. Without this relief, millions will be unable to make ends meet.

If you do not need it don't take it. Those of us who need it would like to have it, buy food and stock up for the winter. One day you may need SOCIAL SECURITY, if you don't fine, everyone isn't as lucky as you...

I hope Jay remembers his comments when he is old enough to retire and is looking for every DIME he can possibly find! Here we are in a debate over a lousy $250.00 stimulous payment for social securty recipients who by the way have all paid for their benifites through F.I.C.I in the past. Some have worked longer than others but the point is that they earned their social security!! My conclusion of the whole problem is the "Silver Spoon" fed youth of today and their lack of knowledge on subjects they know nothing about. All they know is what they have been told and not what they have learned by doing the proper research. Frankly, I beleive the two big downfalls of America today is the letting of the Illegal and legal immigration overrun our country because anyway you look at it we are footing their health coverage while they are in this country. Also the Political conclusion is that "America" is becoming "Pussified" You may take that anyway you want! The youth of today won't have to worry about social security when they are at retirement age because we will not have anyone who will defend our country any more because they don't want to be "Americans" they just want whatever they can get for free and for as long as possible. If another war broke out directly involving America I'll bet you won't see any of these people volunteering to serve. The illegals will beat feet back to wherever as fast as they can! Yet, we continue to cater to these people and the Heath care system etc will NEVER straighten out untill we stop the freebies to people who have NEVER and will NEVER contribute to the system!

If you ask most social security recipients, the ones who are actually senior citizens who worked and paid into SS and deserve it, they are not living high off the hog. I know someone who receives approx $625.00 a month from SS.This amount alone does not even cover her rent. Not to mention utilities, food, presciptions, medical bills and any additional expenses. America is too free with too many hand outs. We are not helping our own people. We are always getting asked to help out other countries and no one probably helps out for our disasters etc..
The young people do not understand.
They do not even want to hear how things were not all that long ago. People worked hard to provide for their families. We knew the difference between a want and a need. They are entitled to receive their SS.

You're complaining about disabled and older people receiving money to help them SURVIVE [critically disabled here and barely make 400 a month]... you are an ignorant and vile person.

Jay is right...California has cut the SSI part of my disability since March from about $145 to $70 iirc so my overall from SS is now $865 instead of $940 (about 8%...but they had to do it to balance their budget so i cant complain(in CA its all going to illegal aliens for welfare, kindey transplants, dialysis, free dental, etc) ...i live in a small tent in an out of the way, wooded area on state land and im happy - other people are helping me and they dont have to...right now times are tough and people receiving help should be the very first to have to tighten our belts....the people in this country are much too generous already - if the public knew whats going on in SSI and welfare programs they would be shocked...just go to your local SS office and see who is showing up - they dont speak English and theyre not there to get SS cards - they're there to get SSI($900+/month) and many are not even citizens despite what the supposed rules are....
its just like the local welfare systems, illegal aliens and other non-citizens are getting welfare + food stamps too and if any whistleblower tries to say anything about the rules, their jobs are threatened...

and id say that at least half of the people who i know that are on SSI could work, they just dont want to...its all b.s.

just as with welfare, many of them get their checks on the 1st and 3rd of the month and spend it all on drugs and high living for about a week until its gone and then the last 3 weeks of the month they are sleeping at the mission and panhandling...

I find this article and some of the comments appalling and close minded but we have freedom of speech so people can post what they like
I am presently on SSI and a disabled vet living BELOW the poverty level
I agree with some that say allot of the people on SSI and disability can work but choose not to but others like me cant work and are still treated like poor worthless crap and forced to live like that
I think if people say we dont deserve some kind of extra help they should live like I have to for a month
I get just over 700 a month and my rent is 400 and have to pay utilities so there isnt much left

Hey how about doing something about the senate raises for 2010 and leave the seniors alone. Lost my job 3 years ago, ripped my rotator cup and can't work, no unemployment and no where to turn, can't get medicare or insurance. My insurance from BC/BS is $760 per month, other companies more. I don't want the govenment's money but I need it. It's much better to fund your own life, but I did pay into SS for 40 years, and the past presidents stole the money. Used all my savings to keep going. I am sorry but I need the money. Can you think of a better idea for me?

Man! I can't believe anyone would write an article with such disrespect for the people that have lived before us and preserved our life style. These people with this attitude of not taking care of the elderly have real problems with any type of social behavior. Alway looking at someone else and wishing they were them. When your turn comes to retire I have to say, "I hope you have a good mind so you can remember how you felt towards SS recipients in 2010." You are so worried there won't be anything left for you. What do you think we are doing? You'll expect the gov to give you your fair share. SS is not a free program my friends. It is bought and paid for and used in the past for other government programs. Shouldn't of taken money out of SS. It belonged to people who paid it in and to those who are paying it in now. Put the blame where it should be. Get a life.

Excuse me but after working for 40 years, and paying into both FICA, and medicare I have paid for my benefits. It is not a seniors fault if the Federal Government, borrowed the money we paid in while working. We did pay in during our working years and we are not asking any one to pay for us just because you are currently working. Blame the Congressional representaties you voted in and if you don't like what they are doing vote them out, but don't say we are asking you to pay for us, we have already paid our share.

I know for a fact that the things that affect retirees and disabled persons (rent, food, medicine)ARE INCREASING at a steady rate--always have and always will. The annual COLA is never enough to cover these increases even when we do get one. What they use to calculate inflation is heavily influenced by fuel, new car and home-buying costs and major department store prices--things which affect very few seniors or disabled persons. Do you think the negative inflation rate keeps the Medicaid premiums from increasing? HE11 NO! Yeah sure, I noticed that Safeway slashed the prices on hundreds of items last year--frivolous items that were overpriced to begin with, while at Winco (a discount grocery store) the basic necessities like bread and milk have gone UP. I know this firsthand, I get a SS check and I get fewer groceries every month. so you can go straight to HE11 mister HanCOCK.

The ageism of this generation is appalling. I was only too happy that the elderly were getting something when I was young. We have raised a generation of Narcissists I'm afraid.

No inflation? HA! Read in this mornings paper that gasoline expected to be $3 per gallon by summer and has already risen 12% since the 5th of this month, ALL my utilities have risen anywhere from 10 to 33%, groceries are on the rise, home owners insurance just went up a whopping 31%. ALL these increased expenses have to come out of my SS money as it is only income. Pay more, get less. Wish we could get something done/corrected NOW!

I know there are a lot of rich seniors, mostly the Good Ol Boys from the past, but most of my friends and myself, live from check to check with no frills. $250. isn't much to make up the lack of increase.

This guy has no idea what he's talking about. He shouldn't even be writing for a paper. My mom is on Social Security. She has to pick between getting her medication and buying food. What right does he have to say anything unless he's been there. Sure, his parents are probably one of the fortunate seniors because of HIS income, he probably supports them. Just for 6 months, he should be put on a limited income and say how great he's surviving. He'll be begging everyone for help because he's used to his "rich" life. He should be banned from saying things that he has no idea of what he's talking about. It makes me so mad that there are really people so ignorant to the "REAL" life. He probably lived life where everything was handed to him. People like that should live the "REAL" life so they know when to keep quiet. I want to know why he hasn't been a man and commented on everyone's replies. Could be because he's a spoiled man who grew up in a life of luxury and always had things handed to him and took from people.

shut up. bet you had no problems paying your rent . people with diabilities and seniors should have been at the top of the list. Bush did all this mess and now you think a magic wond will zap it away.But regardless of all that ,stepping on the small people aint pretty. So, MR. JAY dont lose a leg or two, you might be summons to face the real world.


I pray that you never have to live on social security. My parents (my Dad worked from age 14 in a glass house) collect less that $1100 a month; he gets a pension of about $150 - WOW! They sure are living the good life. AND (by the way) Medicare pays 80% of expenses - do you have any idea what 20% of a minor medical expense costs???

I worked for 20 years of my life and collect less than $1000 per month; no pension! What would you do with seniors when every utility bill and grocery bill gets higher - leave us hungry and freeing in the cold?

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.

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