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Bigger Social Security checks in store for 2019 as inflation rises

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 18: Blank U.S. Treasury checks are run through a printer at the U.S. Treasury printing facility July 18, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. President Barack Obama recently stated that he can’t guarantee retirees will receive their Social Security checks in August if the House and Senate can not reach an agreement on reducing the deficit. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

For the second year in a row, US seniors will see increases in their Social Security checks starting in January.

Recipients will get a 2.8% boost in 2019, higher than last year’s 2% increase — which followed years of minimal changes in payments.

The average payment for all retired workers will go up from $1,422 to $1,461 per month, or $39.

The annual cost of living adjustment is pegged to inflation, which has been rising faster over the past year. The upcoming 2019 increase, which will cover 67 million Americans, is the largest since a 3.6% hike in 2012.

The announcement from the Social Security Administration comes after the release of the Consumer Price Index for September, which shows a 2.3% increase in the cost of all items over the past year. The year-over-year increase in August was 2.7%.

Lately, the largest component of rising costs has been housing, with low inventory and a re-emergence of first-time home buyers driving up prices. The CPI’s measure of gas prices is also up 9.1% since last September.

Senior advocacy groups hailed the increase but said it still wasn’t enough to cover the living costs of older Americans.

The Senior Citizens League, a group mostly comprised of retired military veterans, voiced a particular concern in a report released Thursday: that the 5 million Social Security recipients with the smallest monthly payments would effectively see no increase in 2019 after taking into account rising premiums for Medicare Part B, which are automatically deducted from Social Security Checks.

“We need to strengthen and expand Social Security with COLAs that reflect the real expenses seniors face,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, which is supported by major labor unions.

The group supports pegging cost of living increases instead to a measure of inflation specifically tailored to people older than age 62, which factors in higher healthcare costs. A bill has been introduced in the House to make that change, and hasn’t moved further.