Whitehouse seeking Social Security boost as part of Obama’s stimulus plan

By:  Neil Downing
Providence Journal

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has asked Senate leaders to consider a temporary increase in Social Security benefits as part of a broader federal economic stimulus package.

A boost in benefits would help to ensure that the elderly and the disabled receive financial assistance as part of the economic stimulus plan being developed by President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders, Whitehouse said in a letter to Senate leaders.

"Senior and disabled Americans are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns due, in part, to their fixed incomes and dependence on costly prescription drugs," Whitehouse wrote.

"I've heard from countless seniors and disabled Rhode Islanders about their struggles to make ends meet during a time of record housing and high energy costs. For these hard-hit Americans, every dollar counts and some extra help from the federal government could make the difference between housing and homelessness, and between health and sickness," he said.

Whitehouse was among several legislators who pushed last year to make Social Security beneficiaries eligible for rebates under the 2008 economic stimulus plan approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. To claim a rebate, seniors had to file a tax return - even if they were not otherwise required to.

Under Whitehouse's proposal this time around, beneficiaries would not have to file any paperwork; they would receive economic stimulus payments automatically, through their monthly Social Security benefits.

"In addition to the humanitarian impact of this relief, distributing additional funds to senior and disabled Americans would also be an excellent stimulant to the economy. As compared with other populations who may save a portion of extra income, Social Security recipients, often living on fixed incomes, are more likely to consume amounts allocated to them under a stimulus package," Whitehouse wrote.

There are about 194,000 Social Security beneficiaries in Rhode Island, representing about 18 percent of the state's total population, according to Social Security Administration figures.

Whitehouse's letter was sent to Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Charles Grassley, the committee's ranking Republican; Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader; and Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader.