Legislature(2007 - 2008)HOUSE FINANCE 519

05/02/2007 08:30 AM FINANCE

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved Out of Committee
Moved CSHB 192(HES) Out of Committee
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 76(HES)                                                                                                
     "An Act establishing a higher  education savings program                                                                   
     for  eligible children  who were  placed in  out-of-home                                                                   
     care by the state; and providing  for confidentiality of                                                                   
     identifying  information  of  a  beneficiary  under  the                                                                   
SENATOR   JOHNNY  ELLIS,   sponsor,   related   that  SB   76                                                                   
establishes  the  ASPIRE  program, an  acronym  for  Alaska's                                                                   
youth  Succeed when  People  Invest Resources  in  Education.                                                                   
The  ASPIRE   program  is   designed  to  connect   churches,                                                                   
community  groups,  non-profits, businesses  and  individuals                                                                   
with  Alaska's  foster  children  in a  confidential  way  to                                                                   
provide them  with the educational opportunities  beyond high                                                                   
school.  This program will give  foster children in the state                                                                   
of Alaska an  opportunity to pursue education  and vocational                                                                   
training  after high  school.   Senator  Ellis reported  that                                                                   
there are about  2,000 children in out-of-home  placements in                                                                   
Alaska.  Every  year over 100 of those children  "age out" of                                                                   
foster care.   The studies and  statistics are not  great for                                                                   
the outcomes  with these children.   Other states  are moving                                                                   
in this direction.  He termed  the bill "the government can't                                                                   
do everything" bill.                                                                                                            
Senator Ellis noted that the bill  is a collaboration between                                                                   
the Office of  Faith-Based and Community  Initiatives, Office                                                                   
of Children's Services,  and the private sector  to make good                                                                   
things happen for foster children.                                                                                              
Vice  Chair Stoltze  noted that  SB 76  is a  companion to  a                                                                   
House bill.                                                                                                                     
9:01:41 AM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Chenault  asked if the  bill would open  529 savings                                                                   
accounts for individual foster  children.  Senator Ellis said                                                                   
that option is  already available, but the  legislation would                                                                   
give  statutory  authority  for   the  Office  of  Children's                                                                   
Services to, on a confidential  basis, make information about                                                                   
these foster  children available  for the  setting up  of the                                                                   
accounts.    He  mentioned  the   award-winning  529  college                                                                   
savings account  program pioneered  by Jim  Lynch.   There is                                                                   
not a tax advantage to individual  contributors today, but as                                                                   
more states take this on, there is that possibility.                                                                            
Co-Chair  Chenault asked  what happens  to the  funds if  the                                                                   
child does not want to pursue a higher education.                                                                               
GABE ACEVES,  STAFF, SENATOR JOHNNY  ELLIS, explained  that a                                                                   
foster child  would not  have direct  access to the  account.                                                                   
UAS would control the funds.   At the age of 30 the state has                                                                   
the  option to  change the  name  on the  account to  another                                                                   
Co-Chair   Chenault  noted   that  UA   funds  have   certain                                                                   
stipulations.   He wondered  if they  apply to 529  accounts.                                                                   
Mr. Aceves replied  that the state is the account  holder and                                                                   
will decide how the money is to  be used, such as for tuition                                                                   
and board.                                                                                                                      
Co-Chair Chenault  asked if  the 529  funds would affect  the                                                                   
child's ability to  receive other financial aid.   Mr. Aceves                                                                   
said it would not.                                                                                                              
9:05:41 AM                                                                                                                    
MIKE  LESMANN,   COMMUNITY  RELATIONS   MANAGER,  OFFICE   OF                                                                   
CHILDREN'S   SERVICES,  DEPARTMENT   OF  HEALTH  AND   SOCIAL                                                                   
SERVICES,  reported  that  he  has worked  closely  with  the                                                                   
sponsor.    The  Department of  Health  and  Social  Services                                                                   
supports SB  76.  Children who  are wards of the  state often                                                                   
do  not  have  the  financial  ability to  go  on  to  higher                                                                   
education.   This  program  would  give their  community  the                                                                   
potential to help  them in this endeavor.   He spoke strongly                                                                   
in support of SB 76.                                                                                                            
9:07:41 AM                                                                                                                    
MICHAEL CURRAN,  PROGRAM COORDINATOR,  OFFICE OF  FAITH BASED                                                                   
AND COMMUNITY  INITIATIVES,  testified in  support of  SB 76.                                                                   
He shared  his experience with  working with foster  children                                                                   
in the past.   He related  that foster children often  do not                                                                   
have the  same advantages  as  other children.   He shared  a                                                                   
personal story  about one gifted  child who met  with tragedy                                                                   
due to no future after foster  care.  He maintained that this                                                                   
bill  is a  chance  for  community  building and  for  foster                                                                   
children to fulfill their dreams.                                                                                               
9:12:11 AM                                                                                                                    
JIM LYNCH, VICE  PRESIDENT OF FINANCE, UNIVERSITY  OF ALASKA,                                                                   
discussed  how the  UA college  savings plan  would be  used.                                                                   
The only requirement  is that the schools or  institutions be                                                                   
qualified for federal  financial aid.  The ASPIRE  program is                                                                   
closely aligned with  the purposes of the UA  college savings                                                                   
program,  and  was designed  to  create the  aspiration  that                                                                   
individuals will be going to college.                                                                                           
Representative Nelson mentioned  that foster children usually                                                                   
are removed  from their  families.  She  wondered if  a child                                                                   
reunited  with  their  family  would  be  eligible  for  this                                                                   
savings account.  Mr. Aceves replied  that if the child is in                                                                   
state  custody  for  two  years they  are  eligible  for  the                                                                   
Representative Gara spoke in support of the bill.                                                                               
9:16:26 AM                                                                                                                    
Senator Ellis summarized that  this program fits in perfectly                                                                   
with the mission  of the Office of Faith-Based  and Community                                                                   
Initiatives.   The  bill brings  people  together across  the                                                                   
political   spectrum  and   harnesses   the  compassion   and                                                                   
generosity of the private sector.                                                                                               
Representative  Joule  shared  a  personal  story  about  his                                                                   
grandfather who  was raised outside of the  immediate family.                                                                   
A  person  from the  Episcopal  Church  mentored him  in  his                                                                   
education, which  resulted in  his grandfather being  able to                                                                   
contribute to the  community of Point Hope as a  teacher.  He                                                                   
compared his  story to that of  one that could happen  due to                                                                   
this legislation.                                                                                                               
Co-Chair Meyer drew attention to the two fiscal notes.                                                                          
9:21:18 AM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Gara MOVED  to REPORT  CSSB 76  (HES) out  of                                                                   
Committee   with    individual   recommendations    and   the                                                                   
accompanying fiscal notes.  There being NO OBJECTION, it was                                                                    
so ordered.                                                                                                                     
CSSB 76 (HES) was REPORTED out  of Committee with a "do pass"                                                                   
recommendation   and  with  zero   fiscal  note  #1   by  the                                                                   
University  of  Alaska  and  with   fiscal  note  #2  by  the                                                                   
Department of Health and Social Services.                                                                                       

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