Castor - new bill would pay seniors in lieu of cost of living increase

10/27/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Earlier this month, the US Social Security Administration announced that, once again, it won’t increase payments to seniors to reflect the rising cost of living. One US Member of Congress from Tampa is pushing for funds to help offset the increased cost of living for seniors – if it can escape Republicans.

For the third year in a row, the Social Security Administration won’t budge on the amount it pays out to seniors and others who rely on the system. US Member of Congress Kathy Castor says she’s sponsoring a bill she hopes will at least slightly offset that.

"Before the Social Security Administration announced there would be no cost of living increase for the second year in a row I had already sponsored the Seniors Protection Act that will provide$250.00 to every Social Security recipient in the coming year."

Castor spoke today at an independent living facility for seniors in Tampa. The Social Security Administration reportedly based its decision on slow inflation. Castor says legislators can’t control the math that goes into calculating payments, but they can ask it to pay out more.

"The Congress does not have control over the Social Security Administration's cost of living Consumer Price Index, but we do have the ability to file legislation if there are extenuating circumstances."

Titled the Seniors Protection Act, the bill will be the first legislation Congress takes up after next week’s elections. Castor compares the one-time $250 payments to the stimulus, but she says federal government already has the money to pay for them.

"This will be fully paid for, so it's not deficit spending, but it will go a long way to helping our older neighbors be able to cope with rising costs."

About 3.7 million Floridians receive Social Security, and about 105,000 of them live in Castor’sCongressional district. She says a number of factors make it hard for seniors to maintain financial health.

"Over the past decade older Americans, and especially seniors throughout the Tampa Bay area have really struggled with lost retirement savings, reduced pensions, and the cost of housing. So it's been very troubling to many throughout the Tampa Bay area to hear from the Social Security Administration that, for the second year in a row, seniors will not receive a cost of living increase."

The average monthly Social Security check is about $1,100. Around 60% of seniors rely on these checks to cover more than half of their monthly expenses. For two years, the Social Security Administration has denied cost of living adjustments to these payments, and there are none scheduled in the foreseeable future. But Castor says she’s afraid that the GOP will block the legislation like it has most major bills Democrats have proposed on Capitol Hill.

"Yes, very concerned about it because they've blocked unemployment compensation, they have not been on the side of small business owners but, let me tell you, when you have older Americans on your side you can accomplish almost anything. But, realistically, the United States Senate will be troublesome because they have that sixty vote requirement. But you don't give up, you continue to speak out for the folks who need it, who don't have the high powered lobbyists in Washington and we're going to continue to fight for them."

Castor is an incumbent running against Republican Mike Prendergast. A spokesperson for his campaign says Prendergast would support such legislation.

"The cost of living adjustment should be given to seniors as Social Security is a promise that we've made to them and, while the program will need to be looked at, the benefits including the cost of living adjustments should not be sacrificed at the expense of the seniors who have earned this entitlement."

But he questions the timing of Castor's announcement.

"On the other hand, though, while he's not arguing with the merits of the bill, he would argue the Congresswoman's motivation to pass it so closely to an election that she seems to think she has already won."

The debate over whether to place over 50 million seniors ability to feed and clothe themselves in the hands of Wall Street has been a key theme in the debate among Florida’s Senate candidates. But those receiving the benefits face a more immediate challenge. Martha Mattie is a resident of the apartment complex Castor visited. She says even a one-time payment of $250 would go a long way.

"Some people doesn't get a big check and that helps. We're not getting no more raises on our Social Security. So that gives a chance for us people to use it mostly on pills. The cost of living is high."

The issue of cost of living has been a key theme in the debate among Florida’s Senate candidates. While the debate over whether to place the ability for 50 million seniors to feed and clothe themselves in the hands of Wall Street goes on, recipients face a more immediate challenge.

Representative Castor is a member of the Congressional Task Force on Seniors. The Affordable Care Act, which is the legislation to which many Republicans refer as “Obamacare,” also provided many seniors with $250 checks to help cover drug costs.

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1.45 to the 10th???

That’s 3.7 million Floridians at $250 each… or $925M for Florida. But this is going national and there’s 58 million Social Security recipients nationally… or $14,500,000,000… wait a minute… my calculator just took a dump… much like what’s going to happen to Castor.

What’s in your wallet…

What??? Castor wins??? But my calculator’s still broke… much like most Americans.