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Social Security increase will help Mahoning Valley seniors

Published: Wed, October 26, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.




For people living on Social Security, the announced 3.6 percent cost of living adjustment might make a big difference in their lives.

The increase, due to kick in January, might mean not having to reuse insulin syringes or being able to afford an extra car trip to volunteer or see a doctor.

Eva Russell, 71, of Champion, who did not work outside the home and receives Social Security benefits earned by her husband while working at Denman Rubber Co..

She said the increase will help – but only if the extra income doesn’t make her ineligible for other benefits.

The average increase for those living on Social Security will be $39 a month, or about $467 a year. Also, in December, the Social Security Administration will increase Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to more than 8 million people averaging $18 a month, or about $216 a year. The SSI is the disability program for the poor.

Russell, one of about 60 million Americans who will receive the Social Security COLA, said she was having a hard time a couple of years ago paying for medications after suffering a heart attack following the death of her husband.

“I was on 17 prescriptions,” said Russell, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Alice Drummond of Washingtonville in Columbiana County sits home waiting for the first of the month and her Social Security check.

According to Lisa Solley, chief of Community Relations, Wellness and Training for District 11 Area Agency on Aging, Drummond’s normal routine of volunteering with a Hospice group and the agency’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Program had to be put on hold because she didn’t have the money to pay for the gas after having to pay $85 co-pays for a couple of unplanned doctor visits.

“This month I was in the minus column so now I’m waiting for the 3rd and just twiddling my thumbs because I wasn’t able to go and do my volunteer work,” said Drummond, 70.

“Most of the single people I see receive $670 to $1,500 a month in Social Security benefits. I see couples living on $1,500 a month. For these people, the increase will be more than welcome, said Tracy Guy, information and referral coordinator at SCOPE of Trumbull County in Warren.

“It could mean being able to buy a medication or put gasoline in their vehicle to get to the doctor,” she said.

However, tempering the news is the realization for many that about 25 percent of the hike is expected to be eaten up by an increase for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits.

Robert H. Brothers, a Korean War Army veteran, said he receives $1,200 a month from Social Security and a $1,000 a month pension from General Motors/Packard Electric. He lost his GM health care, but his war-time military service makes him eligible for the Veterans Affairs health care system.

He said his pensions, along with his savings, allow him to “live comfortably” in an independent living unit at Shepherd of the Valley, a retirement community in Howland.

“The Social Security increase is insignificant. It’s kind of like the government throwing us a bone,” said Brothers.

However, he said he understands that for people who aren’t as lucky as he is, the modest raise is important.

Brothers, who helps serve community meals at his church, First Christian in Niles, sees how hard some people have it. That hot meal is important to a lot of the people there, some of them pre-school children.

“All the plates are clean. They don’t leave anything. I’m humbled,” said Brothers, who formerly lived in Niles and Howland before moving to SOV-Howland.

“Some of the people at the meals are veterans. You walk away and wonder how they survive,” said Brothers, who participates in the Korean War Veterans Association’s Tell America Program, and is a member of the Trumbull County American Legion Honor Guard that performs at about 250 veterans’ funeral a year.

He speaks to school children through the Tell America Program about the Korean War and patriotism.

“I’m 80. I tell them it’s their world now, and if they want to make it better, they have to get involved,” he said.

The Social Security increase is welcome news to millions of seniors, said Area Agency on Aging 11 Chief Executive Officer Joseph Rossi.

But he also cautioned that some people may still be on the brink of disaster.

“It’s been two years that seniors have gone without a cost of living adjustment while the cost of medicine, groceries and daily living expenses have increased. The raise isn’t a great amount for most people but every little bit helps,” Rossi said.

Many people on SSI receive about $674 a month.

Social Security is Drummond’s only form of income. She worked as a health aide until retiring in 1995.

“Volunteering makes me feel better about life and gives them enjoyment, too. But when you have extra expenses in a month it makes it hard to do it. So, I’m happy about the raise. I can use it,” she said.

“By the time I pay for rent, utilities and groceries, it doesn’t leave very much to spend.”

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