By Anna Gustafson
The federal government’s decision not to increase Social Security benefits for the second year in a row is a huge blow to Queens seniors who depend on that money to pay for everything from rent to medicine, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and borough residents said at the Forest Hills Senior Center last week.
The U.S. Social Security Administration announced a freeze on the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients last week, which federal government officials said would occur because the Consumer Price Index had not risen over the last year. The CPI measures the change in cost of a wide variety of goods, such as cars and clothes. Typically, seniors would receive a slight increase in their Social Security checks to compensate for increases in items like gas and housing prices.
“To say that the costs for seniors have not gone up over the past year is to pretend that the laws of economic gravity don’t apply to older people,” Weiner said. “Rent is up. Medicare premiums are up. The purpose of the COLA is to help seniors keep up. The Social Security Administration seems to have forgotten that mission. Without some swift action, the standard of living for our nation’s seniors is in jeopardy.”
Weiner spoke with seniors at the Forest Hills Senior Center at 108-26 62nd Drive Friday and told them he planned to fight and vote for an emergency increase in Social Security. Congress is expected to soon vote on the emergency bill, which would give seniors a 3 percent increase in Social Security benefits.
“I think 5 percent is more appropriate, but I’m obviously going to vote for whatever we can get,” Weiner said. “When the banks needed help, we were there for them. We should have the same attitude toward helping our seniors.”
The COLA decision affects 58 million senior citizens in the country, according to the SSA, including a number of concerned Queens residents who said they were barely scraping by with the money they currently receive from the federal government.
“We sure could use that raise, even if it’s just a little bit,” said Shirley Macmacher, 87, of Rego Park. “I get $1,267 a month from Social Security and my rent takes three-quarters of that. Then I have electric and medical bills. My cable bill is going up. Everything is going up.”
Ronnie Klass of Corona said she receives no pension, so Social Security is her only income.
“This is terrible,” Klass said. “Everything went up. It’s not fair. Wall Street is still getting their bonuses and what do we get?”
Weiner said he plans to introduce legislation to change the way the cost-of-living adjustment is calculated and argued that taking the entire Consumer Price Index into consideration makes no sense when determining whether seniors have seen their cost-of-living increase because they do not purchase many of the items in the index, such as new cars. Instead, Weiner said the government should look at what seniors spend most of their money on — like housing, food and medicine.
Additionally, Weiner said the SSA needs to take into consideration regional differences.
“Costs are not the same everywhere,” he said. “To rent a two-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills is probably the same cost as owning a house in Montana.”
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she was pleased Weiner was going to fight for an increase.
“I get many, many calls in my office about it not going up last year or this year,” she said.
Irma Rodriguez, executive director of the Queens Community House, which runs the Forest Hills Senior Center, also said the failure to increase the benefits was “terrible.”
“It’s one more thing to make life difficult for seniors,” Rodriguez said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.