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Freeholder Director Vicari Gets “Promising Response” From Congressman Smith Over Social Security Increase

Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari got a rapid response to his demand calling for a higher cost of living adjustment for seniors receiving Social Security from U.S. Representative Christopher H. Smith.

“I am extremely thankful for the immediate response received from Congressman Smith as we struggle with ways to have the annual Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security actually reflect the current state of the economy where prices are going up and financial help is not,” said Vicari, who serves as Chairman to the Office of Senior Services. “In Ocean County, where almost 200,000 senior citizens live, it’s unconscionable to just accept an increase of 1.3 percent in the 2021 Social Security benefits.

“Clearly that is far too little to allow our seniors to keep a roof over their head, food on their table, cover the costs of utilities and purchase life-saving medications,” Vicari said. “Social Security is not a hand-out. Our seniors have paid into this their entire working lives.”

In a letter to Vicari, Smith said that like Vicari he was outraged that the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a mere 1.3 percent Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment increase for “our seniors, most of whom live on a fixed income budget and many whose only income is their Social Security check.”

Smith said that to address the issue, later this week, he will introduce legislation that will require the SSA to determine the annual COLA on the costs of the items that seniors purchase.

“My bill will change the formula so that it gives appropriate weight to the types of

expenses which recipients of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income seniors endure – especially and including rising medical and pharmaceutical expenses,” Smith wrote in his letter to Vicari. “My legislation will also provide an immediate 2-year emergency 3 percent COLA during the national COVID-19 emergency.

“The added medical expenses and other costs associated with the pandemic and the economic shutdown has placed an enormous burden on our seniors that simply cannot be ignored,” Smith stated.

Vicari polled the Board of Freeholders during its preboard meeting Oct. 14 to determine if there was a consensus to support Smith’s proposed legislation with a freeholder resolution.

The response was a resounding yes.

“I absolutely support Congressman Smith’s efforts to increase the monthly benefits of our seniors,” said Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director Gary Quinn. “These have been very difficult times for our seniors as we navigate so many new challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A more significant increase in their monthly Social Security check will provide some financial comfort during this time.”

The Board is expected to pass the resolution in support of Smith’s proposal during its Oct. 21 regular meeting.

Ocean County is home to more than 173,000 senior citizens, many of whom depend solely on their monthly Social Security checks.

“A senior citizen living alone receives only about a $1,400 monthly benefit,” Vicari said.

A widow or widower living by themselves would see their check increase very slightly from $1,434 to $1,453 under the 1.3 percent increase.

Vicari said that increase does not come close to matching rising costs.

“In the past few months alone we have seen Jersey Central Power & Light raise their rates by almost $10 a month. That was followed by toll increases on the Garden State Parkway and a 10-cent per gallon hike in the gas tax. How much more will our seniors be forced to endure,” Vicari asked.

Besides these rising costs, the pandemic has led to higher food costs.

“Both food and essential household goods like paper towels have increased by more than 1.3 percent in the past year,” he said. “In no way does this cost-of-living increase take into account the continued impact of COVID-19.”

After learning of the 1.3 percent increase, Vicari immediately penned letters to Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, along with the county’s Congressional delegation demanding additional funding for Social Security.

“Congressman Chris Smith responded immediately,” Vicari said.

Vicari said he sent a letter directly to the White House.

“The cost of living adjustment over the last six years has averaged only about 1.3 percent. In some years, there has been no increase at all,” Vicari said. “It is important that our seniors receive an ample benefit from a program most have paid into all of their working days.”

Any increase in Social Security benefits would be seen starting with the January 2021 benefit checks.

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