Cost of Living Adjustments for Social Security Disability Recipients: a Look Back and a Look Forward

Close-up of calendar pagesIn October of every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to consider a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security recipients. There are formulas set by law that determine whether the SSA should increase the amount of Social Security recipients’ checks because of an increase in the cost of living. In years of significant inflation, for example, things such as shelter, food, and clothing become more expensive and a cost of living adjustment allows Social Security disability recipients to maintain their standard of living.

Typically, COLA increases are in the one to five percent range. However, there have been years when the COLA has been as high as 14 percent and there have been years when there has been no COLA increase at all.

A Look Back at COLA in Recent Years

According to current law, there cannot be a negative cost of living adjustment. Cost of living adjustments must either not occur at all or be increases for Social Security disability recipients depending on the formulas set by the government. In recent years, this has meant the following COLA changes:

  • 2009: No COLA increase
  • 2010: No COLA increase
  • 2011: 3.6% COLA increase
  • 2012: 1.7% COLA increase
  • 2013: 1.5% COLA increase
  • 2014: 1.7% COLA increase
  • 2015: No COLA increase

What about now?

COLA: 2016 and 2017

There was no COLA increase announced in 2015 for 2016 disability payments. While a formal announcement about a potential COLA increase for 2017 won’t be made until the end of October 2016, it is anticipated that a small increase of less than 0.5% will occur.

It’s Not Just Monthly Checks That Are Impacted

When COLA increased in 2013, for example, there were also changes in:

  • The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) student exclusion monthly limit
  • The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trial work period monthly limit
  • The sustainable gainful activity (SGA) limit for workers with disabilities
  • The SSI Federal Payment Standard

For these reasons, it is important to stay up to date and to make sure that your Social Security disability payment is correct and that you get the benefits you deserve.

Carl M. Weisbrod
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Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law
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