Social Security Card and Money (Photo: Thinkstock)

The 2019 Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is not likely to top 3%, as expected in earlier estimates. The COLA will more likely be closer to 2.8%, based on the latest estimates from The Senior Citizens League and myfederalretirement.com, an online financial and retirement newsletter for federal and postal employees.

(Related: Social Security COLA Could Top 3% in 2019)

At 2.8%, the 2019 Social Security COLA would still be the highest since 2012, when it reached 3.6%, and would top this year’s 2% level. It would translate into a $39 increase in the average Social Security payment, raising the monthly payout to $1,443.

The Social Security Administration is expected to announce the 2019 Social Security COLA soon after the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its September Consumer Price Index level for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, known as CPI-W, on Oct. 11.

The COLA is based on the change in the average CPI-W from the third quarter from one year to the next. For 2019, the Social Security Administration will base the COLA on the difference between the CPI-W for the third quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2018.

Since there is no data yet for September, The Senior Citizens League estimated the number for September based on the average increase over the previous 12 months, and added it to the change in the CPI-W already published for July and August.

That result is a 2.82% difference, which rounds down to 2.8%, but there is a 30% chance the COLA could be higher if there are dramatic increases in inflation, says Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at the league. Large numbers of displaced persons due to Hurricane Florence, for example, could increase rental costs in neighboring states or counties, but more likely such a change would be offset by the recent trend of lower monthly inflation numbers for CPI-W, says Johnson.

(Related: How the Social Security COLA Fails Seniors)

In either case, next year’s Social Security COLA will not cover many of the increased bills that Social Security recipients face, including costs for health care, housing and food. Medigap costs, for example, have recently been rising at rate of about 16%, effective on policy anniversaries or recipients’ birthdays.