Debt Ceiling May Impact Social Security Payments - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Debt Ceiling May Impact Social Security Payments

Updated: Oct 14, 2013 10:24 PM
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The federal government has continued to pay out Social Security benefits as usual during the shut down. But, if the Thursday deadline to strike a deal on the debt ceiling comes and goes, that could be a different story.

Some Social Security recipients we talked to said they're pretty worried. These days, there seems to be a lot for them to worry about.

For one thing, if something is not done about the federal debt ceiling soon, the government may not be able to pay out social security benefits on time - if at all.

For another thing, anyone counting on a big bump in the size of their social security payments next year is likely going to be disappointed. The Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, increase is expected to be historically small at only 1.5 percent.

"Not everybody is going to have an impact of the 1.5. The 1.5 may not push them into the poverty line, while those people that are already on that poverty line might be pushed back into the poverty level because of the 1.5 and the increase in their bills," Kathy Horrell, Senior Advocacy Supervisor for the Center for Active Seniors, Inc. in Davenport, explained.

One reason the increase is so small is that the price of things like food and fuel haven't gone up too much since last year. But, with such a small bump in benefits expected, there's little wiggle room for price increases in the future.

The average monthly Social Security payment now is $1,162. A 1.5 percent increase would mean only $17 more a month.

For some people, especially seniors who have pensions, 401Ks, or annuities on top of their Social Security payments, that's not a big problem:

"While I'd rather have more money, I get along alright as I am," said Jim Nelson, a Social Security recipient and a CASI member who says he has always handled his money well and lived within his means.

But, other people are not in the same financial shape:

"I have not been able to save. I have a small annuity, but I absolutely live on Social Security," said Ruth Quick, another CASI member and Social Security recipient who says she receives a very small retirement benefit from her late husband's job, but relies on Social Security as her main income.

Quick says a small COLA increase has a big impact on her life.

"To meet your bills, it's tough. You do it, but it's tough. You go without. Trust me, you go without," she explained.

And, with the debt ceiling situation in Washington threatening Social Security benefits for everyone, the worries only increase.

"I would like to see the budget balanced, but not on the backs of our older adults," Horrell said.

Given the current state of the Social Security situation, the older adults we talked to at CASI have a message for the younger generation:

"I say stay in school, get education, and start saving," Quick said.

"People should make an effort to try to save a little every month," Nelson echoed, "Even if it's only a little."

"You can't always depend on the government," he added "Some of it has got to come from yourself."

The Cost of Living Adjustment figures for next year are not exact yet, because they're based on a federal report that's been delayed indefinitely because of the government shutdown.

In addition to Social Security recipients, that adjustment will impact the benefit checks for federal retirees and disabled veterans.

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