For the first time in 30 years, Social Security recipients in the United States will not receive an annual adjustment in benefits. More than 52 million older Americans depend on Social Security for all or part of their retirement income. As pension funds and the stock market have declined in the last decade, Social Security has become the primary rather, than supplemental income for many retirees.
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97-year-old Anna Maiman is one of 52 million Social Security recipients who will not receive an increase in benefits this year.
Maiman came to the U.S. from Poland at age 17. Her husband died several years ago. She suffers from dementia, so her grandson Mike Maiman is her full-time caretaker.
They live on $1,350 a month, the sum of Maiman's Social Security benefits and her husband's pension fund. Anna Maiman is still very active for her age. Her grandson says not having an increase will affect her quality of life.
"It is not life or death for us," Mike says, "but it would mean taking life from more of a hum-drum experience where she can't get out much or do much because we are at the limit of the budget."
Social Security began early last century as a buffer between older Americans and poverty. Americans pay into the system throughout their working lives. The annual increase in benefits is tied to the consumer price index or CPI - an index of consumer goods and services. This year, the CPI fell 1.3 percent, reflecting the steep decline in fuel prices.
Nancy Altman is an authority on private pensions and Social Security. She questions whether the CPI is an accurate cost of living indicator for senior citizens. She argues the CPI is not weighted toward housing and health care, the primary expenditures for older adults.
She wants to see Social Security benefits increased.
"The average benefit is less than someone working full time at minimum wage. It is not even a minimum wage life style," Altman says. "So when you don't get the cost of living increase it just compounds that. The benefits are just not enough."
Anna Maiman's granddaughter pays for her to attend Winter Growth, a non-profit day care center for the elderly, two days a week. Maiman participates in classes and activities with other seniors. Like many of her peers, she could not afford to come here without financial help.
Social Security Administration officials say the average recipient receives a check for $1,150 a month. And 40 percent of all single retirees depend on Social Security for 90 percent off their income.
Marge Burba is the executive director of Winter Growth. She says Social Security is the only source of income for half of her clients, and when there is no cost of living increase, it also affects the non-profit organizations that serve them.
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"Our costs will go up more than the consumer price index and yet the people that we are serving won't have the money to pay that," Burba notes. "So, we have to scramble around and try and find it somewhere else to continue giving them quality care."
President Barack Obama says he wants to provide an emergency payment of $250 to Social Security recipients as soon as possible. The proposal is currently a part of several bills circulating on Capitol Hill.
For Anna Maiman and other Social Security dependents, the increase would mean an extra $30 to $40 a month. It's not much, but it would provide a cushion that could help in an emergency.