The budget plan, released Wednesday, calls for changing the way the annual cost of living adjustments for Social Security and other federal programs are calculated. Shifting to "chained CPI" from the current inflation measure could reduce the federal debt by $230 billion, but it would also mean that seniors would get smaller increases in their Social Security payments each year.
The president's proposal would provide protections for the oldest seniors, low-income seniors and veterans, and those who are disabled. Seniors ages 76 to 85 would receive a supplemental payment annually to offset some of the slowdown in growth. Also, programs that are geared for those in or near poverty, such as the Supplemental Security Income, would be exempt from the switch to chained CPI.
But the change would still make a difference for many people. Chained CPI is expected to grow between 0.25 and 0.3 percentage points more slowly than the current CPI measure.
Initially, the reduction in the growth of Social Security checks would be quite small ... between $38 and $45 in the first year, for the average retired worker. But over time, that would grow into the hundreds of dollars.
Someone who started collecting the average Social Security benefit for a retired worker in 1999 would receive $12,972 in 2012. But let's say the Social Security Administration had already been using chained CPI -- that person would get only $12,336 this year, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. That's nearly 5% less.
The difference gets bigger over time. According to the National Women's Law Center, a retiree who was collecting $17,520 last year would see 6.5% less, or $1,139, by age 85, if chained CPI were in effect. A decade after, their payments would be 9.2% smaller, or $1,612. These calculations do not include the supplemental payments, the details of which were not released until Wednesday.