In most years, disability recipients receive a small cost-of-living increase to their Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or SSI disability benefits. The term the federal government uses for cost-of-living increases is "COLA," which stands for cost-of-living adjustment.
The most recent COLA (for 2023) is 8.7% for all Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This is the highest COLA in many years, due to inflation in 2022.
The maximum federal SSI payment is increasing $73 per month for an individual (up to $914 per month) and $110 per month for a couple, where both spouses are eligible for SSI (up to $1,371 per month).
Exact increases for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) amounts depend on the lifetime earnings of the recipients, but the average increase for an SSDI recipient will be $119 per month in 2023.
Many more figures are changing in 2023 because of the COLA; see our article on the most important changes for disability recipients in 2023.
The purpose of a COLA is to make sure that inflation (this is what happens when the prices of goods and services rise) doesn't lead to your benefits being insufficient to purchase the things you need to live. For example, if one year the cost of goods and services were to cost twice as much on average as the year before, you would only be able to buy half as many goods and services with the same amount of money.
Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the federal Department of Labor determines the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W). The CPI-W is a measure of the average change over time in the prices people pay for goods and services. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the CPI-W to determine if there will be a COLA.
In order for there to be a COLA in a given year, the CPI-W from the third quarter in the last year that Social Security recipients were given a COLA is compared to the CPI-W from the third quarter of the current year. If the CPI-W has increased by less than 0.05%, or if the CPI-W actually decreased, there will be no COLA. If the CPI-W increased by at least 0.1%, there will be a COLA increase in January of the next year.
For example, the 2023 COLA is based on on the increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2021 through the third quarter of 2022.
Some observers and many Social Security recipients think the annual COLA isn't high enough. One argument is that the CPI-W is not an accurate measure of inflation's impact on seniors, and that the Consumer Price Index - Elderly (CPI-E) should be used instead. The CPI-E is a measure that gives greater weight to goods and services used disproportionately by seniors—medical care, for example.
COLA increases are automatic. If the CPI-W has increased enough, you will receive a cost-of-living increase in your benefits. You don't have to ask the SSA or apply for it. People receiving SSDI benefits will receive the increased benefit starting in January of the year the COLA applies to, while people receiving SSI will get their first increased payment in December of the year before. (For instance, SSI recipients will get their first increased payment due to the 2023 COLA on December 30, 2022.)
For the details, see our calendar of payment dates for SSDI and SSI.
Updated March 3, 2023