On Oct. 13, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that its 2023 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will be 8.7%, the highest since 1981.
Less than a month later, on Nov. 1, the White House tweeted that Social Security beneficiaries are getting their biggest increase in monthly Social Security checks in 10 years “through President Biden's leadership.”
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) responded to that tweet by saying the White House left out an important detail: Social Security’s COLA is an automatic formula based on the government inflation metric (CPI). The White House has since deleted the tweet.
Is President Joe Biden directly responsible for the largest Social Security benefit increase in 10 years?
No, President Joe Biden is not directly responsible for the largest Social Security benefit increase in 10 years. Increases in Social Security benefits are calculated annually using a set formula that cannot be changed by the president.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Social Security Administration (SSA) adjusts benefit amounts based on a set formula every year to account for inflation through a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
Social Security provides people with an income when they retire or can’t work due to disability. Those who are retired can typically start receiving their Social Security benefits as early as age 62.
In 2023, Social Security’s COLA will be 8.7%, an average increase of about $140 a month beginning in January, the SSA said. Not only is that the highest COLA increase in the past 10 years, but SSA records show it’s the highest COLA increase since 1981, when Social Security benefits increased by 11.2%.
The SSA explains on its website that the COLA is calculated based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), an inflation gauge calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It measures the average change over time in the prices that workers are paying for in a “basket of consumer goods and services.”
Each year, the SSA calculates the difference between the CPI-W’s third quarter average for the current year and the third quarter average of the previous year. The percent by which it increases, if there is an increase, is rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent and applied to Social Security payments. That same increase is applied to monthly Social Security payments.
This calculation isn’t the result of anything new the SSA is doing. COLA is automatically calculated each year as described in the Social Security Act under “Cost-Of-Living Increases In Benefits.” The SSA says this was enacted as part of the 1972 Social Security Amendments, as directed by Congress.
The president of the United States does not have the ability to unilaterally change this formula.
Last year, when Social Security’s 5.9% COLA was the highest increase in benefits since 1982, people on social media made similar claims crediting the increase to President Joe Biden. That COLA was also automatically calculated using the same formula.