Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and Social Security benefits are increased based on an index that measures how earnings are keeping up with the cost of items such as food and gasoline. If there's a benefit increase -- and there's no guarantee that there will be one every year -- it's given to all beneficiaries. Individual situations, such as your rent being raised or high medical costs, don't influence whether your SSI or Social Security benefits will increase.
SSI and Social Security benefit increases are called cost-of-living adjustments. Cost-of-living adjustments are based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, which is issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month. The CPI-W considers the costs of basic goods such as food, beverages, housing, medical care and education.
Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at the third quarter's CPI-W numbers and compares them to the the CPI-W index from the last time a cost-of-living adjustment had occurred. For example, in 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compared the third quarter of 2010's numbers to the third quarter of 2008, which was the last time a cost-of-living increase had occurred. There wasn't an increase in the index, so there was no cost-of-living adjustment for the upcoming year.
Medicare Part B
If you're on Social Security, you may have opted for Part B of Medicare. Part B provides doctor services and has a monthly premium, which usually goes up each year. Social Security has a "hold harmless" provision, though, that will keep 70 percent of Social Security recipients from having to pay an increase in Part B premiums when there is no cost-of-living increase. Higher income households receiving Social Security and those new to Medicare have to pay the higher Part B premium. If you're on SSI and Medicare, you should also be eligible for Medicaid, which will pay your Part B premium so you won't have your benefit lowered either.
If your rent is going up, but your benefits aren't, you may be eligible for other assistance. Many urban areas offer public housing, which is for the low-income elderly (usually age 65 or older), disabled and families with children. Public housing rent is based on your income. Housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8, can pay a portion of your rent, but there may be a waiting list in your area. You may also want to speak to your landlord about your situation and ask for your rent increase to be waived.