A nonpartisan group is asking Congress to issue another round of $1,400 stimulus checks, and this time the payments would go just to older Americans.
The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) recently told members via email about its plan to push for special stimulus payments to help offset potential spikes in Medicare and other expenses for older Americans. In the messages, TSCL asked members how they've been impacted by inflation this year. The group plans to use the responses to help it lobby Congress for additional $1,400 checks targeted to people who receive Social Security.
"Soaring prices are battering the household budgets of Social Security recipients like you," an email to TSCL's members stated last week. "We are hearing from dozens of you who say you have cut spending by putting off filling prescriptions, reducing the number of meals you eat to just one per day."
If TSCL's push is successful, this would be the fourth stimulus check since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. However, this would be the first stimulus check aimed at a specific demographic: Americans who are on Social Security. People can start receiving Social Security benefits when they turn 62, or if they meet certain disability requirements.
The first three stimulus checks issued to help Americans cope with the pandemic maxed out at $1,200, $600 and $1,400, respectively, and were given out to all adult U.S. citizens or green card holders who were under the income limits.
Research indicates most adults used their stimulus payments on things like food, rent and utilities. But older adults spend their money differently than younger people. As people age, more of their household income goes toward medical bills and housing, and less toward dining out or school expenses, for example.
Social Security, inflation and stimulus checks
TSCL is specifically worried about inflation's impact on older people. That may sound like an arbitrary reason to request targeted stimulus checks. After all, inflation is affecting everyone right now, with strained supply chains bringing higher-than-usual prices on everything from cars to pet food.
But inflation puts a strain on older folks in one way that it doesn’t necessarily affect others – through Social Security benefits.
Next year, the Social Security Administration is expected to issue the largest cost of living adjustment (COLA) in nearly 40 years. By TSCL's estimate, that adjustment could be as high as 6.2%.
That’s good news, considering inflation is currently at 5.4%. But higher COLA for Social Security benefits could coincide with higher costs for Medicare, which threaten to eat up any extra cash. It also counts as income, so the increase could "cause some people to see benefits like SNAP or rental subsidies trimmed if their income increases more than the limit," says Mary Johnson, a Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League.
That’s concerning for seniors who are on limited incomes or depend on food stamps and other public programs. Social Security is already nowhere near enough for retirees to live on. Some critics say an even higher COLA is needed next year to boost retirees’ incomes.
“The problem is the length of time retirees have been getting these low COLAs, and the compounding effect of those low COLAs,” Johnson told Money last year. At the time, the COLA for 2021 was announced as barely above 1%. Meanwhile, the buying power of monthly Social Security checks has plummeted by 33% since 2000, after adjusting for inflation.
The current cost of living adjustment is based on a measure of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that reflects inflation according to how younger workers spend their money. TSCL said in a release last month that this measure disadvantages people over age 62, who use their money differently.
A bill introduced in the House in July would base the COLA on the CPI-E, which is based on the spending needs of older adults. “2021 is one of those times when gasoline prices soar and the CPI-W would yield the higher COLA,” Johnson said in the release.
TSCL says it is now advocating for all Social Security recipients to receive additional $1,400 stimulus checks, and the organization hasn't suggested any specific income or age limits. Any decisions to restrict who might be eligible if and when a fourth stimulus check is approved "may rest with our lawmakers in Congress," if they choose to take up the initiative, Johnson says.