WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats want Congress to approve a one-time $581 emergency payment for the more than 65 million retirees, veterans and Americans with disabilities who receive Social Security payments.

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington state and Chuck Schumer of New York said the payments would help those who were denied a cost-of-living adjustment in 2016 and who are set to receive an average raise of $5 per month — or 0.3 percent — in 2017. It would increase the average monthly payment from $1,355 to $1,360 per month.

Those receiving Supplemental Security Income are set to gain even less — the maximum federal benefit for individuals will rise just $2 to $735 per month.

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While the increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index, Murray said it’s “woefully inadequate for Washington state seniors to keep up with the ever-increasing costs of everyday life.” And Schumer said that too many Social Security beneficiaries are financially vulnerable and that Congress needs to help “make up for their lost dollars.”

Senate Democrats pushed the plan, called the Seniors and Veterans Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act, last year without luck.

Now it’s part of the post-election agenda that Democratic leaders will pursue if they win enough seats Nov. 8 to take control of the Senate next year.

Should that happen, Schumer would replace Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as Senate majority leader, while Murray would lead the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee or possibly the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., first introduced the bill, she said the $581 payment would represent a 3.9 percent increase for Social Security recipients, equal to the same percentage raise that most business executives received the previous year. Warren proposed that the payments be made as refundable tax credits.

Democrats want to pay for the legislation by changing a law that allows corporations to write off executive bonuses as a business expense for performance pay.

Murray said that ending the tax subsidies for corporate bonuses would help provide emergency relief to more than 1.2 million people in her state.

Schumer noted a precedent for the legislation, with Congress approving a $250 one-time payment for Social Security recipients in 2009 to help them get through the recession.

He said the extra $581 would be equal to three months of groceries for most seniors and that the emergency payment could also help them pay for out-of-pocket expenses for the prescription drugs they receive under Medicare.

© 2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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