Seniors Do Not Need This $250 Pick-Me-Up Social Security recipients won't get a cost-of-living adjustment in their benefits next year, but President Obama wants to give them all $250 checks. In a time of great economic uncertainty, are $250 checks — which would cost an estimated $14 billion — the best solution?
NPR logo Seniors Do Not Need This $250 Pick-Me-Up

Seniors Do Not Need This $250 Pick-Me-Up

Is a $250 check the best solution? hide caption

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Is a $250 check the best solution?

Want another perspective? Be sure to read Nancy LeaMond's take on this issue.

Last week, President Obama announced an initiative to give $250 to each Social Security recipient. He stated this would make up for the lack of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security checks next year, but a congressional estimate put the price tag at $14 billion. While it seems like a noble effort, there must be a minimal level of healthy skepticism in regards to its curious timing: We are funding a new government initiative when our federal deficit is reaching new heights.

I, like many young Americans, have living grandparents in their late 80s — and I certainly want the best for them. When the holiday season approaches, in predictable fashion, they insist they need nothing — what would my sister and I like instead? This very relatable situation is a good representation of how many grandparents feel about further government spending that their grandchildren would have to pay for.

President Obama's logic is that our senior citizen population was hit hardest by the recent recession, and a $250 payment would ease their financial pains. But as of last year, the poverty rate for citizens 65 years and older was 9.7 percent. Comparably, the rate for 18- to 64-year-olds was 11.7 percent rate, and minors were at a startling 19 percent.

Furthermore, Social Security recipients had a cost-of-living increase this year of 5.8 percent, primarily because of a spike in energy costs of 23 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One must wonder how many workers received a cost-of-living increase of 5.8 percent in last year's economic climate.

Because of the massive increases in government spending, younger people are left wondering who exactly is going to pay for this. In a time when government is increasing spending, borrowing to the hilt, passing a trillion-dollar bailout and stimulus, promising a "cap and tax" energy initiative and proposing government-run health care — we are left exhausted, painfully trying to figure out who will eventually foot this bill. Will it be us — the motivated and informed twenty-somethings — who are left financially flailing?

Christopher Malagisi, 28, is president of the Young Conservatives Coalition, director of political training at The Leadership Institute, and a political science adjunct professor at American University. Courtesy of Christopher Malagisi hide caption

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Courtesy of Christopher Malagisi

If one views this from a cynical lens, it seems a bit suspicious that President Obama is pursuing this at a time when his health care initiative is losing support. Many seniors, just as well as young people, are becoming increasingly skeptical of the president's plan, and a hint of election concerns might be playing a role in the administration's decision-making. Seniors are the largest voting age demographic in the country — and Democrats are looking at a tumultuous voting landscape next year. By enticing seniors with a carrot like this, it could soften the electoral blow and acquiesce their health care ambivalence.

If the government wants to enact a serious program to help our senior citizens, it should instead target its efforts on the one out of every 10 senior citizens who live in poverty — or redirect $14 billion of the unused stimulus funds to finance the program for next year. This way, we would stifle our growing federal deficit and avoid passing unnecessary costs down to my generation.

Though, in light of the president's proposed health care and energy initiatives, my grandparents might need every dollar they can get.