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2% COLA hike for Social Security recipients

Meanwhile, there is still a freeze on COLA increases for ASG retirees

While ASG retirees are still awaiting news of any possible increase in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in the near future, the US Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a 2% COLA hike for its recipients last Friday morning.

“Such great news, great news,” said one local beneficiary, when contacted Friday after Samoa News received the official SSA announcement. “This is something to look forward to in the New Year.”

Another local beneficiary, also contacted Friday, first asked Samoa News, “How about the COLA for ASG retirees? I guess there is nothing for 2018 from the ASG Retirement Fund, while the government is proposing all these new taxes for businesses, who will pass on the cost to consumers.”

“But thank you Social Security for the extra income for the new year,” said one recipient who spent 45 years working for ASG and 15 years working in the US.

Two other SSA beneficiaries contacted by Samoa News over the weekend also voiced appreciation of the increase in the monthly SSA benefits, but they both noted — during separate phone interviews — that the 2.0% increase “is going to be eaten up by new ASG taxes” passed by the Fono.

ASG Employees' Retirement Fund officials testified at a House Retirement Committee hearing early this month that there is still a freeze on the COLA until the funded status of the Retirement Fund improves to at least 60%. (See Samoa News Oct. 5th edition for details).

Similar testimonies were made during a Senate Retirement Committee  hearing more than a week ago, with Retirement board chairman Va’anatiu Iafeta Tofala saying that the Board has held off on a COLA hike at this point based on current status of the Fund.

Senators have urged the Board to make a COLA hike a priority for next year.

In a national news release, SSA said that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 66 million Americans will increase 2.0% in 2018, and the 2.0% COLA will begin with benefits payable to more than 61 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2018.

An SSA fact sheet states that the 2018 COLA hike is based on the increase in the federal Consumer Price Index from the third quarter of 2016 through the third quarter of 2017. It also  shows how much current benefits Social Security recipients receive and when the new COLA goes into effect.

For example, all retired workers, currently receive about $1,377 a month; but under the new COLA hike, the monthly payment will be $1,404, according to the fact sheet, which also provides average monthly payments for other recipients, including disabled workers.

According to SSA, the Old-Age (retirement), Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) — popularly referred to as Social Security — provides monthly benefits to an eligible worker and family members when the worker elects to start receiving retirement benefits or when the worker dies or becomes disabled. A worker’s lifetime covered earnings largely determine the amount of benefits received.

SSA’s Congressional Statistics 2016 on American Samoa notes that as of December 2016, there were a total of 6,175 beneficiaries.

 For retired workers, there were 2,370 beneficiaries in 2016, with an average monthly total payout of $2,078.

Although the January 2018 COLA hike includes SSI benefits — monthly payments to low-income aged, blind, or disabled persons — the program does not cover American Samoa.