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Residents dont fret status of Social Security
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Forsyth County News
Emily McCormick says she’s one of the lucky ones.

The 83-year-old Forsyth County resident lives on Social Security, but also is able to collect on her late husband’s retirement.

“I’m lucky in the sense that I own my own home and I’m able to make it,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to pay for the car I’m paying for now if I didn’t get any more money than what Social Security pays me.”

McCormick is one of more than 15,000 county residents who receive a Social Security check each month. Though none are at risk of receiving smaller monthly checks, there is a chance they will not receive the standard Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, for at least a year.

“Anyone on fixed income is going to be impacted,” said John Manton, president of the local AARP chapter. “But I don’t think it’s going to be devastation.”

Since 1975, the Social Security Administration has automatically increased payout based on a number of factors, including labor statistics and the consumer price index.

Dan Moraski, administration spokesman, said while it’s too early to know for sure, the recent Social Security trustees report projected there wouldn’t be an automatic COLA for the first time since the increases were adopted.

“But that’s just a projection,” he said. “We’re still waiting on the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

The Social Security trustees won’t make a decision until after third quarter labor statistics are released in mid-October, Moraski said. If they provide an adjustment, the new rates would begin Jan. 1.

The situation come on the heels of January’s 5.8 percent cost of living increase, the largest since 1982, when it went up 7.4 percent.

In 2008, the increase was 2.3 percent, lower than the 3.3 percent increase in 2007 and the 4.1 percent increase in 2006.

“We had a 5.8 percent increase this year. That will probably be the last one we’ll get,” Manton said. “It doesn’t amount to a heck of a lot. In fact, every time they increase COLA a little bit, what happens is they increase the Medicare cost.

“So it’s a net zero, or maybe less. And next year is going to be even less because Medicare will go up and we’ll have no COLA.”

Medicare is the federal government’s health insurance program for senior citizens, or those 65 years old or older.

More than 11,000 of Forsyth’s Social Security recipients are seniors, many of whom have their Medicare payments taken directly from their Social Security checks.

That’s why, Manton said, health care in America “can have a far-reaching effect, and a lot more than what Social Security is going to do.”

“There’s a lot more than Social Security at stake here, and most of that follows Medicare and medical benefits.”

For McCormick, it doesn’t seem that long ago when health care was more affordable.

She still has a bill from 1936, when she paid $57 to treat her ruptured appendix. Her last standard checkup, she said, was more than double that.

But in the end, McCormick said the cost of health insurance outweighs the cost of the medical services she receives, including recent knee replacement and sinus surgeries.

While Medicare covers 80 percent of the approved cost, she has gap insurance to cover the rest.

“I’m paying out a lot for my medical insurance,” she said. “That’s quite a sum of what I have to spend.”

On average, the 51 million Social Security recipients nationwide collect about $1,150 a month, according to December 2008 administration statistics.

Shelly Johnson, director of the Forsyth County Senior Center, said she’s seen some seniors living on as little as $300 a month.

“We do have some low-income seniors that attend the center, and if they can’t keep up with the cost of living ... they’ll be making some tough choices as to what they’ll spend their money on.”

Johnson said the center helps direct seniors to programs and resources to help them with basics like utilities and medicine.

“Forsyth is a pretty good community to live in,” she said. “Our community is very generous.”