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Post Misleads on Congressional Salaries, Social Security


Q: Did members of Congress approve a salary increase for themselves and deny an increase in Social Security benefits? 

A: No. Congress is still contemplating whether to allow an automatic pay increase for its members, and it does not determine cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries.

FULL QUESTION

Did Congress reject an increase for SSA/SSI of over $300 a month but give themselves a raise recently?

Read on Facebook today by several different people.

FULL ANSWER

The prospect of Congress upping the annual pay for its members has faltered in recent days. A bipartisan agreement had raised the possibility of the first congressional salary increase in years, but concerns about the optics have reportedly stalled that proposal.

Yet a viral post spread on Facebook, and questioned by some FactCheck.org readers, erroneously claims that Congress has approved exorbitant pay raises while simultaneously denying an increase in Social Security benefits.

“Congress rejects $336 monthly increase in SS/SSDI, Approves $8,872 monthly increase for themselves,” the viral post, shared by thousands of Facebook users, reads. “TELL YOUR CONGRESSMEN vote NO!”

First of all, Congress does not control the annual cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security benefits. We’ve debunked that misconception repeatedly.

Since 1975, the annual adjustment for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits, as we’ve written, has been determined by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When there is no increase in the CPI-W for the specified time period, there is no cost-of-living adjustment.

The COLA for 2019 that went into effect in January raised benefits (which include Social Security Disability Insurance or “SSDI”) by 2.8 percent.

As for congressional salaries, legislators have been considering allowing an automatic pay raise of 2.6 percent for 2020. That would mean an additional $4,500 annually — not “$8,872 monthly” — for most members, who currently make $174,000 (congressional leaders earn more). Amid dissent from some members, House Democratic leaders recently postponed a decision on whether to allow the raise to go through.

The automatic adjustment formula was established by a 1989 law and is “based on changes in private sector wages and salaries as measured by the Employment Cost Index,” according to the Congressional Research Service. The percentage increase cannot surpass that for “General Schedule” federal employees. It automatically goes into effect unless Congress statutorily denies it, which it has done every year since 2009.

Adjusted for inflation, the CRS notes, members’ current salaries represent a 15 percent decrease in pay since the last adjustment was applied in January 2009.

Sources

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information for 2019.” Social Security Administration. Accessed 13 May 2019.

DeBonis, Mike and Paul Kane. “House Democratic leaders postpone vote on part of spending bill over congressional pay raise.” Washington Post. 10 Jun 2019.

Ferris, Sarah, Heather Caygle and Laura Barrón-López. “Dems to yank bill to raise congressional pay after backlash.” Politico. 10 Jun 2019.

Jackson, Brooks. “Social Security COLA.” FactCheck.org. 23 Sep 2009.

Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables.” Congressional Research Service. 17 May 2019.

Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustments.” Congressional Research Service. 19 Nov 2018.

Social Security Disability Insurance: Participation and Spending.” U.S. Congressional Budget Office. Jun 2016.

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"Congress rejects $336 monthly increase in SS/SSDI, Approves $8,872 monthly increase for themselves."
Tuesday, June 11, 2019