Social Security recipients are set to receive a major increase in monthly benefits

The Social Security Administration’s annual cost of living adjustment is based on inflation readings, and inflation has seen 40-year highs for months.

Image: Betty Frost, 96, chats with her family using a tablet at a nursing home in Loveland, Colo. on March 8, 2022.
Betty Frost, 96, chats with her family using a tablet at a nursing home in Loveland, Colo., on March 8. Hyoung Chang 

Social Security recipients struggling with higher inflation are likely to get a major boost in their monthly benefits starting next year.

Thanks to the high inflation reading for July, beneficiaries could receive as much as $159 extra per month in 2023, according to a new estimate from the Senior Citizens League, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Social Security Administration’s annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) formula is based on inflation readings for July, August, and September. Even if inflation peaked in July, the readings for the next two months are still likely to be significantly higher than in years past, given that consumer prices have remained at 40-year highs for most of 2022.

Mary Johnson, policy analyst and editor at the Senior Citizens League, said she is currently projecting an annual adjustment of 9.6%, which would be the biggest boost to Social Security benefits since 1981.

“That’s really phenomenal,” she said. “Effectively, no one receiving Social Security at the moment will have received a COLA this high.” 

A 9.6% adjustment would compare with an increase of 5.9% last year, which equated to a monthly average earnings bump of $92.30.

The ultimate net benefit to Social Security recipients will also also be contingent on how much Medicare Part B premiums increase.

But Johnson said Medicare administrators indicated earlier this year that premium increases next year could be low, or even non-existent.

That’s because this year’s dramatic, 14.5% increase has proven to have been unnecessarily large, as it was tied largely to the cost of an Alzheimers drug whose price has since been cut in half.

“The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) agreed that beneficiaries are being overcharged for their Part B premiums in 2022, [however] beneficiaries won’t get refunds this year,” Johnson wrote in a follow-up email. “CMS says it would use the excess premium charges to reduce the Part B premium increase for 2023.”

A CMS spokesperson declined to comment. An official announcement on Medicare Part B premium costs is expected this fall.  

Johnson said people on fixed incomes have been among those most impacted by the 40-year-high inflation rates, which means benefit payments have not kept pace with rising prices this year. As an example, the Senior Citizens League estimates that, based on the inflation rate through July, a $1,656 monthly Social Security benefit is about $58 less than it should be per month, on average.

And for most beneficiaries, the coming increase will still fall short of what recipients need to catch up with price increases on food and other consumer goods, Johnson said. Already, 37% of participants surveyed by the Senior Citizens League said they received low-income assistance in 2021. That is more than double the 16% who were receiving needs-based assistance before the pandemic.

“Social Security was never designed to be a sole source of income for people,” Johnson said.

The Social Security Administration is expected to announce the 2023 cost of living adjustment in October after the consumer price index data for September is released.