In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the great Social Security program. It was designed to give workers an income after retirement.
Today, it's not so great. The tiny Social Security increase that will be bestowed on retirees and the elderly in January is a cruel fraud perpetrated by the government. That's because increases in Medicare Part B and Part D insurance premiums will negate all of the Social Security 2% cost of living increase for many recipients. Instead of staying even, we'll fall behind.
I just got my annual benefits letter from Social Security. It says I will get $24 a month more next year. However, after the Medicare premium increases, my new Social Security check will be $3.40 a month less than the one I currently get. (The government deducts Medicare premiums from Social Security checks.)
In my case, the Medicare Part B insurance premium, for doctor visits, will go from $109 a month to $133 a month, eating the entire $24 cost of living increase. And my Part D prescription drug Medicare premium will increase to $20.40 a month from $17. For retirees on a fixed, low income, every dollar counts. We can't afford to have less money — even $3.40 a month — coming in from a government program we paid into for 45 years or so.
Congress needs to reset the 2018 Medicare premiums and Social Security payments so people don't net less in 2018. Along the way, the politicians should also make up for all the negligible increases we've gotten over the last decade or so that didn't come close to matching real cost of living increases. But instead of doing the right thing, the denizens of Washington are talking about taking an ax to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid next year.
I paid into the system for decades from my wages, and I don't want these programs cut.
My dwindling Social Security income is only half the problem, of course. My rent will go up on Jan. 1 by $27 a month. Food prices are rising. Campbell's soup, for example, just went up at my Wal-Mart. (I suspect they do this every year to offset the sales they have at Christmas on toys.) Grocery stores are raising prices too. The other day, I bought a box of frozen fish fillets at Stater Bros. for $5.49. Last month the same store had them for $4.99.
Beyond Medicare premiums, the costs in other parts of that safety net keep rising as well. The Medicare Part B annual deductible — what I have to pay before Medicare ponies up — isn't going up in 2018, but it rose last January to $183, from $166 in 2016, and $147 in 2015. And pray to God I don't get hospitalized. That's Medicare Part A, and the deductible will be $1,340 next year, up from $1,316. Most regular folks can't afford either amount.
On top of all this, last week the Federal Reserve increased interest rates. That will mean higher costs for car loans, mortgages, bank loans and the like, and it will trickle down, or is it up, to the price of consumer goods.
No one in Congress from either party seems to give a damn. The House and the Senate are about to cut taxes mostly for the rich and big business, which will increase the national debt, and the word is, the government will try to pay for it with cuts to what House Speaker Paul Ryan calls "entitlements," to make them sound bad. Here's Sen. Marco Rubio: "The driver of our debt is … Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries." And, according to the Washington Post, Sen. Orrin Hatch, "while whipping votes for the tax bill… attacked 'liberal programs' for the poor."
Do I hear a hue and a cry from Congress on the other side? Not much. I think all politicians have at least one foot in hell already, but Republicans are in with both feet. As for Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters, who think of him as a saint, I will remind you that if he hadn't run (and run and run) against Hillary Clinton last year in the Democratic primary, Clinton would probably be president, not the evil Donald Trump.
Clinton is flawed too, of course, and she is a tool of Wall Street, but at least she doesn't have a foot in hell. Maybe a toe or two, like Sanders. Purgatory is for people like them. I had hopes for Sen. John McCain, with his vote to save Obamacare, but then he didn't have the guts to oppose the GOP tax plan. Where are the politicians who consistently, loudly stick up for people who need help?
Give us our Social Security increase or throw us into the poor house. Well, I guess I wouldn't go that far for $24 a month, but you get the idea.
Les Gapay is a freelance writer and retired journalist.