Critics argue that Social Security recipients shouldn't get an increase when inflation is negative. They note that recipients got a big increase in January — after energy prices had started to fall. They also note that Social Security recipients received one-time $250 payments in the spring as part of the government's economic stimulus package.
Consumer prices are down from 2008 levels, giving Social Security recipients more purchasing power, even if their benefits stay the same, said Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
"Seniors may perceive that they are being hurt because there is no COLA, but they are in fact not getting hurt," Biggs said. "Congress has to be able to tell people they are not getting everything they want."
Social Security is also facing long-term financial problems. The retirement program is projected to start paying out more money than it receives in 2016. Without changes, the retirement fund will be depleted in 2037, according to the Social Security trustees' annual report this year.
President Barack Obama has said he would like tackle Social Security next year, after Congress finishes work on health care, climate change and new financial regulations.
Lawmakers are preoccupied by health care, making it difficult to address other tough issues. Advocates for older people hope their efforts will get a boost in October, when the Social Security Administration officially announces that there will not be an increase in benefits next year.
"I think a lot of seniors do not know what's coming down the pike, and I believe that when they hear that, they're going to be upset," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who is working on a proposal for one-time payments for Social Security recipients.