For needy recipients of Social Security checks hoping for a cost of living adjustment _ or COLA _ to give them a few dollars more in 2011, the numbers just don't add up.
COLAs are automatically determined using an inflation measure approved by Congress in 1973. In 2010, the numbers added up to no raise in benefits. The latest figures indicate that there will be no raise in 2011, either.
What that means is that many of our citizens most in need of a few dollars more to get by each month won't get any additional help and may have to continue to make the choice between food and medicine.
When determining whether to give Social Security recipients a raise, officials look at the inflation rate from the third quarter of each year. They compared this year's July, August and September with 2009's.
If inflation increases _ like it did in 2009 when energy prices shot up and there was a 5.8 percent increase in benefits _ then there are higher payments made by the government. If there's a decrease in inflation, benefits remain as they are.
Social Security trustees say the next increase in benefits will probably come in January 2012, but that doesn't help senior citizens wondering how they're going to make ends meet in 2011.
Somehow, even as the inflation rate stays low, a can of soup at the supermarket seems to cost more and more.
So what is to be done to a program that is predicted to run dry in 2041 if no changes are made by Congress?
One idea could be to make it easier for those who do not need that monthly Social Security check _ for instance, an over-65 Bill Gates _ to donate it back into the program.
The way things stand now, if you want to donate money to the government, you send a check to the U.S. Treasury. You can't just refuse the money in the first place.
How about a federal program that will send donated money by wealthy senior citizens directly to the Social Security coffers with an eye on increasing benefits for those most in need?
Another idea is for all the millionaires in Congress _ at last count, there were 237 of them, or 44 percent _ to eschew their pay and direct those funds and all that is spent on free mailings to tell voters how good a job they're doing to go right to Social Security.
We realize that wouldn't make much of a dent in the problem, but it would certainly make a lot of us feel a whole lot better.