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Concerns loom for Social Security's future ahead of benefit increase

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(Ohio News Connection) People who rely on Social Security income are expected to get a big boost in benefits, but advocates for the program are voicing concerns about its future stability, especially in this political climate.

The annual Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment or "COLA," which could be announced any day now, is predicted to be close to 9 percent for 2023.

Amid record high inflation, said Norman Wernet, president of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, the increase will be crucial to help older Americans cope with inflation.

"Social Security is there because we need some way to have a life after a life of work," he said. "Not every worker has been able to put money back or have a good pension - and actually, pensions have been diminished over the last 30 years."

However, the Social Security Board of Trustees report continues to forecast a long-term cash shortfall that could lead to reduced benefits in 13 years. Some Republicans have floated cutting or sunsetting the program. But Wexner's group and others are supporting bills in Congress that would expand benefits and boost the cap on the amount of income subject to Social Security tax.

Jon Bauman, president of the advocacy group Social Security Works' political action committee, explains that the current wage cap for the program is $147,000, which means those who make more than that don't have money withheld on the additional earnings. Bauman argued that the cap should be lifted.

"A Koch brother or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or a random rich person stopped paying at $147,000," he said. "So, if they made, like, $50 million that year, they're paying '.0000000000000001%' in - and how is that fair?"

He noted that the money in the Social Security Trust Fund comes directly from workers' wages during all their working life, plus their employers' contributions. One-point-eight-million Ohioans receiving Social Security benefits are age 65 or older.