Social Security Checks will be a Little Larger in 2019, But it may not be much help.

November 15, 2018

If you receive Social Security old age or disability benefits, your monthly checks will be larger beginning in December. The 2019 Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will result in a 2.8 percent increase, the largest increase since 2012. Last year’s increase was 2 percent and was 2 percent combined for the previous two years. The average Social Security retiree benefit is about $1,400 a month, so the 2019 cost-of-living adjustment will amount to an extra $468 for the year. For those receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the average benefit check is about $1,200 per month, so their increase will about $34 per month or a little more than $400 for the year.

However, the increase may not be quite as rosy as it appears at first glance. In the past, bumps in Social Security COLA have been eaten into by higher Medicare premiums for both Part B and Part D (prescription costs). The individuals who this will affect most adversely are those with lower benefits, from around $600 to $634 a month, according to Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at the Senior Citizens League. “That group will likely see their Part B premium take up their entire COLA in 2019,” Johnson says.

Furthermore, benefit payments have lost a lot of their buying power largely because healthcare costs have risen much faster than COLA increases. Healthcare is not heavily figured into the COLA calculation. Although benefits have risen by 46 percent through cost-of-living increases since 2000, senior expenses have gone up 96.3 percent, according to a nonpartisan senior group.

But a much bigger worry for those who depend on Social Security is looming on the horizon. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Bloomberg reporter that to get the federal deficit under control Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need to be reformed. Don’t be misled here. “Reformed” is a code word for benefit cuts. This is a particularly cynical proposal, since the federal deficits have ballooned because of last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut that disproportionately benefited the very rich and corporations, and because Congress upped the defense budget to $675 billion. Now, Congress wants to reduce the deficits they caused on the backs of seniors and the disabled who are already struggling financially due to healthcare costs. In too many cases, illnesses or injuries are forcing families into bankruptcy.

Don’t forget to vote in every election to make your voice heard and protect your benefits!