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Another year, another small benefit increase for Social Security recipients, disabled vets

WASHINGTON — For the second straight year, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees can expect historically small increases in their benefits come January.

Preliminary figures suggest a benefit increase of roughly 1.5 percent, which would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Next year’s raise will be small because consumer prices, as measured by the government, haven’t gone up much in the past year.

The exact size of the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, won’t be known until the Labor Department releases the inflation report for September. That was supposed to happen Wednesday, but the report was delayed indefinitely because of the partial government shutdown.

The COLA is usually announced in October to give Social Security and other benefit programs time to adjust January payments. The Social Security Administration has given no indication that raises would be delayed because of the shutdown, but advocates for seniors said the uncertainty was unwelcome.

Gunmen kidnap 7 International Red Cross workers in N. Syria

BEIRUT — Gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers and a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer after stopping their convoy early Sunday in northwestern Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country’s civil war.

Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said the assailants snatched the seven aid workers from their convoy near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province around 11:30 a.m. local time (0830 GMT) as the team was returning to Damascus. He declined to provide the nationalities of the six ICRC employees, and said it was not clear who was behind the attack

Syria’s state news agency, quoting an anonymous official, said the gunmen opened fire on the ICRC team’s four vehicles before seizing the Red Cross workers. The news agency blamed “terrorists,” a term the government uses to refer to those opposed to President Bashar Assad.

Schorno said the team of seven had been in the field since Oct. 10 to assess the medical situation in the area and to look at how to provide medical aid. He said the part of northern Syria where they were seized “by definition is a difficult area to go in,” and the team was traveling with armed guards.

Much of the countryside in Idlib province, as well as the rest of northern Syria, has fallen over the past year into the hands of rebels, many of them Islamic extremists, and kidnappings have become rife, particularly of aid workers and foreign journalists.

South Dakota ranchers reeling from cattle losses, disposal pits set to open on Monday

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Western South Dakota ranchers are reeling from the loss of tens of thousands of cattle in last weekend’s blizzard, and many will dispose of carcasses in pits set to open Monday.

Rancher Heath Ferguson said the storm killed 96 percent of his herd of 100 black Angus and Limousin cattle, a hit worth about $250,000. He said total losses topped more than 1,000 head, as six other herds were roaming the family’s 16,000 acres east of Sturgis.

Up to 4 feet of snow fell in the Black Hills area last weekend. Reports of 20 or more inches of snow were common, and 21½ inches in Rapid City were a record for both a 24-hour period in October and the entire month. At least two deaths were attributed to the storm, and it took a particularly heavy toll on livestock.

Ferguson said the vast majority of ranchers don’t have insurance covering storm-related damage.

By wire sources

“It’s cost-prohibitive for a producer,” he said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press. “Unless you’re a really big operator, you can’t afford to pay for the insurance.”

By wire sources