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Senior citizens in Billings struggling with social security "COLA" increases

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Posted at 11:04 PM, Oct 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-08 01:04:50-04

BILLINGS — Cost of living increases are crucial for all working citizens as it allows them to keep pace with inflation. An increasingly tightening budget due to that same inflation can be almost impossible to navigate for some senior citizens though.

"I’m able to pay all my bills, but I don’t have a whole lot left," said Billings resident Bob Brekke.

Brekke is a 68-year-old retiree and resides at the St. John's United Chapel Court apartments. His income is comprised entirely of his social security each month. Meaning the yearly, "COLA" or cost-of-living increases are something both he and other seniors closely monitor.

"I think it affects the older people where it's all they have to live on is social security and some of them have a hard time deciding whether they get their medicine or their groceries," added Brekke.

In 2023, retirees saw an 8.7% increase raise. It resulted in on average a $144 more each month, the biggest raise since 1981.

The amount each year is based on the consumer price index which measures inflation, but many feel it’s not examined equally.

"They look at the inflation rate and they make that adjustment based on the inflation rate. There’s a lot of debate, by the way, by congress and the tool that they use for that and whether or not it actually is picking up the cost of living that impacts our seniors," said Michael Larson, executive director of the Adult Resource Alliance.

Larson mentioned that many seniors have increased medical costs that aren’t taken into account.

"The ability of our senior population, the majority of them, they can’t make the adjustments. When the cost of the basic rent, food, and transportation, when those go up particularly the way they have been lately, they have no ability to make up for the increased cost," added Larson.

Currently, the Senior Citizens League nonpartisans prediction for 2024 shows a COLA adjustment of just 3.2%, or an average increase of just $57 more a month.

Which leaves residents like Brekke with very little after his bills are paid.

"It’ll still be around $200 a month I have to spend," he said.

A consistent reality regardless of the increases due to rising inflation across the board.

"I wish it was more money a month, but it isn’t and that’s just the way it is. An 8% increase was quite an increase, but like I said before, everything else just goes up with it," said Brekke.