David Certner is the Legislative Counsel and Director of Legislative Policy for Government Affairs at
Congress and the Administration are considering, as a means of deficit reduction, a legislative change to the consumer price index – the so-called “chained CPI.” This change would have a particularly negative impact on Social Security benefits – here’s why:
1. Chained CPI compounds over time.
As a result of a chained CPI, there will be a 0.3% annual cut in Social Security cost of living adjustments (COLAs). Since this compounds over time, it would end up cutting the equivalent of one full month of benefits each year from a 92-year-old beneficiary. And it’s not a small cut overall – Social Security loses $112 billion over the next 10 years.
2. The greatest impact will be on the most vulnerable older Americans.
As retirees age, they have less income, fewer financial assets, and are more dependent on Social Security. Specifically, women tend to live longer than men and tend to have lower incomes, so women and poorer households are more at risk of falling into poverty with any cuts to Social Security.
3. Benefits for disabled and retired veterans would be cut.
3.2 million disabled veterans and another 2 million military retirees would see their benefits cut if chained CPI is adopted. Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,400 a year at age 45, $2,300 a year at age 55 and $3,200 a year at age 65.
4. Chained CPI is a less accurate measure of inflation
Since retirees spend much more on medical care than working-age Americans, the current CPI calculations already underreport the rapidly increasing health care costs experienced by seniors. Moving to a chained CPI would exacerbate the gap between formula and actual costs.
5. Social Security does not drive deficits, and should not be cut as part of a budget deal.
Social Security is a separately financed, off-budget program – it is not a driver of deficits in the rest of the budget. Any changes to Social Security should be handled separately, not as part of a budget deal that focuses on near-term savings that harm current retirees.