Legislature(2011 - 2012)CAPITOL 106

01/25/2011 03:00 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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03:03:45 PM Start
03:06:46 PM HB16
04:34:52 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Committee Orientation TELECONFERENCED
Moved Out of Committee
         HB  16-EXTEND SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM                                                                      
3:55:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KELLER announced that the  first order of business would be                                                               
HOUSE BILL NO. 16 "An Act extending senior benefits."                                                                           
3:56:31 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE HAWKER,  Alaska State Legislature, introduced                                                               
HB 16 as the  bill sponsor.  He explained that  HB 16 proposed to                                                               
extend benefits for Alaska seniors,  as this program had a sunset                                                               
clause which  was due to  expire on June  30, 2011.   He reported                                                               
that  this program  provided  a needs  based  cash assistance  to                                                               
approximately  10,000 low  income Alaska  seniors.   He clarified                                                               
that  it was  a  tiered  benefit program,  based  on the  Federal                                                               
Poverty Guidelines  (FPG) for  household income.   He  listed the                                                               
benefit amounts:   $250 per  month to individuals with  income of                                                               
75 percent  or less of  FPG; $175  per month to  individuals with                                                               
income between 75  and 100 percent of FPG; and  $125 per month to                                                               
individuals with income  between 100 and 175 percent of  FPG.  He                                                               
noted that the FPG benchmark  was adjusted annually.  He stressed                                                               
the  importance  of  this  as  a component  of  income  for  many                                                               
seniors.   He opined that it  was important to maintain  a sunset                                                               
clause for  this program, in  order to  keep it from  becoming an                                                               
entitlement.    He  reflected  that,  given  the  state's  strong                                                               
revenue  forecast and  large cash  reserves, it  was good  public                                                               
policy to  extend the  senior benefits  program for  another four                                                               
years until June  30. 2015.  He offered his  belief that it would                                                               
relieve the  anxiety of  Alaska seniors  and would  demonstrate a                                                               
commitment to them.                                                                                                             
4:01:29 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  HERRON, referring  to the  attached fiscal  note,                                                               
asked for  an explanation  of the  Appropriation Required  for FY                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  HAWKER replied  that this  represented the  carry                                                               
forward appropriations,  which were  an increment from  the prior                                                               
budget year.  He explained that  the remainder of the fiscal note                                                               
reflected  a "3  percent straight  line growth  curve," which  he                                                               
acknowledged was only a speculation.                                                                                            
4:02:53 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON, reflecting on  the number of beneficiaries                                                               
of the program, asked how many  people were unaware of or did not                                                               
take advantage of the program.                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER suggested that he  speak to the Division of                                                               
Public Assistance.                                                                                                              
4:03:30 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  expressed  concern   for  the  four  year                                                               
extension.   He  pointed  out that  this  extension would  extend                                                               
through  two legislatures.   He  asked  if Representative  Hawker                                                               
would object to  a two year extension, which would  allow for the                                                               
next legislature to assess the fiscal conditions at that time.                                                                  
4:04:35 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   HAWKER  pointed   out  the   difference  between                                                               
authorizing  legislation  and  appropriation of  funding  for  an                                                               
authorized  program.   He deemed  that this  legislation extended                                                               
the existence of the program for  four years, but that a separate                                                               
appropriation  would still  be necessary.   He  pointed out  that                                                               
every program needed an annual  appropriation.  He nominated that                                                               
a  four  year  sunset  clause  was  consistent  with  established                                                               
legislative  protocol,  and  that  the  appropriation  was  still                                                               
determined by each legislature.   He affirmed his support for the                                                               
four year extension for HB 16.                                                                                                  
4:06:31 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  MILLETT inquired  about  a  provision in  statute                                                               
which  allowed for  the  senior  benefit to  be  adjusted if  the                                                               
appropriation were lowered.                                                                                                     
4:07:26 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  HAWKER, in  response  to Representative  Millett,                                                               
cited AS  47.45.301(c):  "if the  appropriations are insufficient                                                               
to meet the  demands of the program the department  may reduce or                                                               
eliminate  the cash  benefit  available to  the  recipient."   He                                                               
declared that this granted the  statutory authority to "be nimble                                                               
in adjusting to facts and circumstances."                                                                                       
4:08:13 PM                                                                                                                    
RON  KREHER,  Acting  Director, Director's  Office,  Division  of                                                               
Public  Assistance,  Department  of Health  and  Social  Services                                                               
(DHSS),  in response  to an  earlier  question by  Representative                                                               
Herron,  stated that  it was  difficult  to gauge  the number  of                                                               
potentially eligible low  income seniors who had  not applied for                                                               
the benefit program.                                                                                                            
4:09:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KELLER opened public testimony.                                                                                           
4:09:52 PM                                                                                                                    
DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director,  Alaska Commission on Aging,                                                               
Division  of  Senior  and Disabilities  Services,  Department  of                                                               
Health and  Social Services (DHSS),  offered support of HB  16 on                                                               
behalf of  the Alaska Commission  on Aging and the  10,000 Alaska                                                               
seniors  who  benefited  from  the program.    She  relayed  that                                                               
eligibility for the  program was based on age, at  least 65 years                                                               
of  age,  and financial  need.    She  declared that  the  Senior                                                               
Benefits  Program  provided  "a   crucial  safety  net  for  many                                                               
seniors."  She acknowledged that,  although not a large amount of                                                               
money, it could  make a real difference in the  ability to afford                                                               
food,   housing,  medicine,   health   care,   and  other   basic                                                               
necessities.   She relayed that  less than 20 percent  of seniors                                                               
participated  in  the  program.     She  compared  the  rates  of                                                               
participation among the nine regions  of Alaska, noting that more                                                               
than 50  percent of  seniors in the  Bethel area  participated in                                                               
the program.   She pointed  out the  increased cost of  living in                                                               
many rural regions.  She  directed attention to a slight increase                                                               
in  participation in  urban  areas.   She  reported  on a  recent                                                               
Alaska Commission  on Aging statewide  survey of  older Alaskans,                                                               
which gathered  information on senior  needs for an  FY 2012-2015                                                               
state plan  on senior services.   She shared that more  than 3000                                                               
Alaskans, aged  50 years and  older, had responded.   She pointed                                                               
out  that financial  security  was an  important  concern for  20                                                               
percent of the respondents, many of  whom had lived in Alaska for                                                               
more  than 40  years.   She  observed that  17.5  percent of  the                                                               
respondents had reported  that the Senior Benefits  Program was a                                                               
source of income.   She explained that, although  63 percent said                                                               
that they had  not had difficulty paying for items  over the last                                                               
30 days,  some had  reported difficulty  paying for  basic items,                                                               
such  as energy  costs, medical  bills, food,  and housing.   She                                                               
encouraged  strong support  for HB  16,  as it  was "good  public                                                               
policy and that  it helps seniors who are the  most vulnerable to                                                               
economic  stresses to  live with  dignity and  independence which                                                               
impacts their health and well-being."                                                                                           
4:15:05 PM                                                                                                                    
MARIE  DARLIN,   Coordinator,  AARP  Capital  City   Task  Force,                                                               
referred to  the AARP letter  of support  for HB 16  [Included in                                                               
members' packets] and urged its passage.                                                                                        
4:17:05 PM                                                                                                                    
SUSANNAH  MORGAN,  Executive  Director,   Food  Bank  of  Alaska,                                                               
pointed out  that anti-hunger groups  also supported HB 16.   She                                                               
reported  that  44  percent  of  the  people  who  went  to  food                                                               
pantries, food kitchens,  or shelters were over 50  years of age.                                                               
She relayed that  her staff in the communities  had reported that                                                               
many  seniors  counted  on  the Senior  Benefits  Program.    She                                                               
pointed  out that  only  one  state had  a  higher percentage  of                                                               
seniors over  75 years  of age  than Alaska.   She  expressed her                                                               
strong support for HB 16.                                                                                                       
4:18:30 PM                                                                                                                    
MARY  SULLIVAN,   Program  Manager,  Seniors   Behavioral  Health                                                               
Outreach & Prevention Coalition,  Akeela, Inc., expressed concern                                                               
for the cost of senior health  care and medication.  She declared                                                               
that  the Senior  Benefit Program  allowed for  maintenance of  a                                                               
level of  independence and  a safety  net for  basic needs.   She                                                               
expressed the need to focus on  prevention.  She urged support of                                                               
HB 16.                                                                                                                          
4:20:21 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KELLER,  after ascertaining  there were no  more questions,                                                               
closed public testimony.                                                                                                        
4:20:58 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  HERRON asked  about  the significance  of a  four                                                               
year extension.                                                                                                                 
4:21:25 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER, in response, cited  that four years was an                                                               
historical  reauthorization minimum  and reflected  a consistency                                                               
of application to the original bill.                                                                                            
4:21:56 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON offered his support for HB 16.                                                                            
4:22:16 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  expressed his  concern  with  the 4  year                                                               
extension.   He  offered the  longevity bonus  as an  example and                                                               
opined that this  was a "promise broken."  He  stated that it was                                                               
important  to  follow  through  with   what  was  promised.    He                                                               
expressed support  for the Senior  Benefits Program, but  that he                                                               
wanted  the next  legislature to  have  the freedom  to fund  the                                                               
program.   He surmised that  a sunset  clause of two  years would                                                               
allow for  a review.   He  pointed out  that the  Senior Benefits                                                               
Program  based  eligibility  on  gross  annual  income,  with  no                                                               
consideration for personal assets.   He offered his belief that a                                                               
two year sunset  clause would allow the opportunity  for a future                                                               
legislature  to make  changes, instead  of "changing  the program                                                               
[in] mid stream and disqualifying people."                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  moved to adopt a  conceptual amendment, as                                                               
follows:  "amend line 5 to 2013 from 2015."                                                                                     
4:24:41 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  MILLETT objected.   She  offered her  belief that                                                               
the  four year  extension gave  comfort to  the seniors  and that                                                               
seniors  understood that  if appropriations  were not  available,                                                               
then the cash benefits could be  reduced, as quoted earlier in AS                                                               
47.45.301(c).  She  opined that this was not "tying  the hands of                                                               
future legislation to  adjust the asset portion."   She expressed                                                               
her support for the four year extension.                                                                                        
4:26:22 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KELLER  offered  his belief  that  although  the  proposed                                                               
conceptual amendment  would shorten  the sunset  clause in  HB 16                                                               
from four years to two years, this  was not a change to the bill,                                                               
but  a "housekeeping  matter."   He  expressed appreciation  that                                                               
Representative  Seaton  had  spoken   previously  with  the  bill                                                               
sponsor,  Representative Hawker.    He  encouraged for  committee                                                               
members  to follow  this  example of  speaking  with the  sponsor                                                               
prior to the  committee meeting.  He expressed  his opposition to                                                               
the proposed conceptual amendment.                                                                                              
4:27:55 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  reflected  that the  termination  of  the                                                               
longevity bonus had shown that  terminating a program was not the                                                               
same  as a  sunset clause,  and that  it was  viewed as  a broken                                                               
promise.   He opined  that seniors  would assume  that HB  16 was                                                               
guaranteed for four  years.  He offered his belief  that the bill                                                               
language  did not  give the  flexibility to  reduce the  benefits                                                               
should  assets  be included  in  eligibility  determination.   He                                                               
expressed his support of the  Senior Benefits Program, but voiced                                                               
his concern for a possible fiscal change in two years.                                                                          
4:30:10 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KELLER  asked for Representative  Hawker to comment  on the                                                               
proposed amendment.                                                                                                             
4:30:37 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  HAWKER emphasized  his support  of the  four year                                                               
extension, and stressed  that "we, the legislature,  have made it                                                               
extremely clear, in fact I  would argue crystal clear" that these                                                               
programs were  subject to annual  appropriation.  He  opined that                                                               
this  was  a different  circumstance  from  the senior  longevity                                                               
bonus, and that low income seniors  were not going to be deprived                                                               
of this program.                                                                                                                
4:32:08 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KELLER  stated that  he would  vote against  the amendment.                                                               
He offered his  belief that a major crisis looming  for the state                                                               
was  the expansion  of entitlements.    He opined  that having  a                                                               
sunset clause  defined that the  Senior Benefits Program  was not                                                               
an  entitlement.   A roll  call vote  was taken.   Representative                                                               
Seaton  voted  in favor  of  the  proposed conceptual  amendment.                                                               
Representatives Millett,  Herron, Dick, Miller, and  Keller voted                                                               
against it.   Therefore the proposed  conceptual amendment failed                                                               
by a vote of 1-5.                                                                                                               
4:33:51 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT  moved to  report HB  16 out  of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
notes.   There being no  objection, HB  16 was reported  from the                                                               
House Health and Social Services Standing Committee.                                                                            

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
Support for Senior Benefits Rep Hawker-ACoA.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
Sponsor Statement HB16.docx HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB 16
Fiscal Note HB16.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB0016A.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB 16
Requesting Hearing HB16.docx HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
House Bill 16 Background Information.docx HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
Senior Benefit Fact Shee Updated HB16.docx HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB16 Backup AARp.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
Testimony-Letters HB16.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB 16
HB 16 AFC Support Letter.doc HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
HB 16
DHSS Priorities 2011.pdf HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM
Budget Overview 2011.pptx HHSS 1/25/2011 3:00:00 PM