Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/09/2001 01:35 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                                                                                                                                
           SB 116-AK TEMP. ASSISTANCE PROGRAM AMENDMENTS                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN noted that a proposed  committee substitute  to SB                                                            
116 was before the committee.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR LEMAN  moved to adopt Version F as the working  draft of the                                                            
committee.  There being no objection, the motion carried.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. JIM  NORDLUND, Director  of the Division  of Public Assistance,                                                             
said SB  116 makes  amendments  to the Alaska  Temporary  Assistance                                                            
Program (ATAP),  which was created when Alaska's welfare  reform act                                                            
was  enacted in  1996 [SB  98 by  Senator Green].  SB  98 is a  very                                                            
robust law that has enabled  the division to reform Alaska's welfare                                                            
system  and to successfully  move  welfare recipients  from  welfare                                                            
into  the workforce.    SB 116  is the  first  attempt  to make  any                                                            
amendments  to that law.   One section of  SB 116 is important;  the                                                            
others are minor modifications.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said the section that  was in SB 116 that was  removed                                                            
from Version F  dealt with the 60 month lifetime limit  on benefits.                                                            
Both the federal and state  laws allow 20 percent of the caseload to                                                            
be exempt from  the five-year limit.   Congress and the Legislature                                                             
recognized  that, inevitably, some  welfare recipients will  have to                                                            
receive  benefits  beyond  60  months  because  certain   conditions                                                            
prevent  them from  working  and providing  for their  families.  He                                                            
pointed out the 20 percent  waiver applied to the original caseload,                                                            
which amounted to about  12,000 families at the time, before welfare                                                            
reform was instituted.   The division has projected that when the 60                                                            
month limit hits  in July of 2002, the caseload will  be below 6,000                                                            
so the 20 percent waiver  will only apply to about 1200 clients.  He                                                            
explained that  if 20 percent originally applied to  the 12,000, one                                                            
can assume  those families  have severe  problems  that will  not go                                                            
away.  The  division predicts that  in future years (2003  and 2004)                                                            
it will have to  cut people off of the caseload who  all would agree                                                            
should continue to receive assistance.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said the  bill as  introduced by  the Governor  simply                                                            
repeals  the  20 percent  cap.   Instead  of  using  that  arbitrary                                                            
figure,  the  division  suggested  establishing   objective,  strict                                                            
criteria by  which families would  be allowed to receive  assistance                                                            
beyond 60 months.  The  families that fit the criteria would receive                                                            
an extension  rather than a lifelong  exemption.  He explained  that                                                            
section 2 would have repealed that cap [AS 47.27.015(f)].                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said he discussed alternative  solutions with  Senator                                                            
Green and Representative  Dyson.   Senator Green was concerned  that                                                            
putting the  criteria in  regulation was too  loose of an  approach.                                                            
On proposal  was to  put the  criteria in statute.   Representative                                                             
Dyson  suggested applying  the  20 percent  waiver  to the  original                                                            
number of recipients,  which would give the division  enough room to                                                            
cover the number of families  that need continual assistance.  After                                                            
further  discussions with  Senator Green,  she decided  to pursue  a                                                            
solution  to  that  problem  next  year so  Section  2  was  removed                                                            
altogether.   Because  that section  was the heart  of the bill,  it                                                            
will have to be dealt with at some point.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN asked  Mr. Nordlund  to review  the provisions  of                                                            
Version F.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NORDLUND  said that  Section  1 of  Version  F deals  with  the                                                            
conformity  issue with  federal law.   Under  federal law,  families                                                            
that  live  in Native  villages  with  unemployment  rates  over  50                                                            
percent, as determined  by state data, are exempt  from the 60 month                                                            
limit.  Alaska  law does not contain a similar provision  so Section                                                            
1 will bring Alaska's statute  into conformity with the federal law.                                                            
It was not  in the original version  of SB 116 because removing  the                                                            
20 percent cap would have taken care of the problem.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD asked what qualifies as a Native village.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND said  that definition comes from the  list of federally                                                            
recognized villages.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD  asked if this applies  to the 226 villages  recognized                                                            
by the Ada Deere case.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND said he believes so.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD asked if it  applies to the federally recognized tribes                                                            
or whether it applies to a place like Egegik.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND offered to get an answer for the committee.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN  said she did not realize this bill  applied to the                                                            
federally recognized tribes.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 428                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. KRISTEN  BOMENGEN,  assistant  attorney general,  Department  of                                                            
Law,  said she  does  not believe  the  federal welfare  reform  law                                                            
referred  to  the  federally  recognized  tribes.   She  offered  to                                                            
provide the definition to the committee at a later date.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN  asked if  that  originally  applied  to a  Native                                                            
village or a rural village.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said the federal law  uses the word "reservations"  so                                                            
it was trying to replicate  that in Alaska.  He again offered to get                                                            
the specific language for the committee.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN commented  that  the economy  of  the village  was                                                            
supposed to trigger the waiver.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN  said she believes Alaska's  statutory language  simply                                                            
refers to that provision in the federal law.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN asked  if Section  1, as written,  addresses  that                                                            
concern.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said it does.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said Section 2 is in  response to a lawsuit  that DHSS                                                            
lost.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN explained  the case was a challenge to DHSS regulations                                                            
that were  generated under  the statute as  it formerly read.  Under                                                            
those regulations,  the basis  for the 50  percent reduction  was an                                                            
evaluation of the employment  of the family's principal wage earner.                                                            
That language  was borrowed from the Aid to Families  with Dependent                                                            
Children  (AFDC) statute  in effect  at the time.  That program  had                                                            
three different categories  based on deprivation. The third category                                                            
was created  for two-parent families  that had an attachment  to the                                                            
workforce.   If the  wage earner  was unemployed,  the family  could                                                            
qualify  for  the  AFDC benefit.    That  terminology  was  borrowed                                                            
because  the AFDC  statute was  in effect  when this  law was  being                                                            
written. DHSS  then made, in regulation,  an attempt to distinguish                                                             
two-parent families  in which one of the parents was  incapacitated.                                                            
The  court  determined  that  the plain  language  of  this  statute                                                            
indicated a different  kind of evaluation than the  one used by DHSS                                                            
and overruled the regulation.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NORDLUND  said  when  he  researched  why  this  provision  was                                                            
originally chosen, he found  that language was chosen before federal                                                            
welfare  reform  was on  the horizon.    DHSS took  two approaches:                                                             
Senator Green's  waiver approach,  which assumed that law  would not                                                            
pass and the Governor's  approach, which assumed that it would.  The                                                            
language had to  be consistent with AFDC if it was  to be in effect,                                                            
assuming  federal  welfare  reform  didn't occur.    Borrowing  that                                                            
language  made sense at the  time, but the  problem now is  that the                                                            
court interpreted  that language literally when the  law intended it                                                            
to apply to two-parent  families despite the unemployment  status or                                                            
who was the principal  wage earner.  The danger is,  if this part of                                                            
the law is not changed,  DHSS might have to go back and pay benefits                                                            
to two-parent  families in the summer,  which he does not  think was                                                            
the Legislature's intent.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN asked if the language  in Section 2 addresses  the                                                            
crux of the problem.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND said  the language does address the court  case but the                                                            
language in the committee  substitute does not contain language from                                                            
the original bill that  exempts a two-parent family from the benefit                                                            
cut  if  one parent  is  incapacitated.    ATAP  has  exempted  such                                                            
families for the  last four years so the committee  substitute would                                                            
make a  policy change. He  was not sure  that was the Legislature's                                                             
intent.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN  asked if the committee substitute  would treat the                                                            
two-parent family  of which one parent is incapacitated  the same as                                                            
a "whole" two-parent family.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND said that is correct.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked  Mr. Nordlund what the court directed DHSS to                                                            
do and whether the original bill contains the minimum language.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said  the language proposed in the original  bill would                                                            
maintain  the status quo.   It provides for  the fourth category  of                                                            
eligibility that is provided  for in ATAP with one exception for the                                                            
incapacitated  parent.   The language  in the  committee  substitute                                                            
sets a clear line that  establishes that all two-parent families are                                                            
subject to the reduction and DHSS could not change that.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked  if DHSS prefers the language in the original                                                            
bill regarding the provision.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said it does.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN  asked if anything in that language  is superfluous                                                            
and is not required for DHSS's needs.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said no.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN  asked what has been added to address  the lawsuit.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN explained the question is what has been subtracted.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMEN  GREEN asked  if she  was speaking  of  the phrase,  "the                                                            
unemployment of the family's principal wage earner."                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said that  term is no longer examined by the department                                                            
and is no longer  useful because it  doesn't really give  the public                                                            
fair notice  of what is  being established.   She thought the  court                                                            
felt that the  law contained plain  language while DHSS was  telling                                                            
the court it  did not have to look  at unemployment because  it does                                                            
not use that as an eligibility factor any longer.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Number 599                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  WARD asked  if the  committee  substitute as  is would  not                                                            
satisfy the court.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN  said, "This  language is beside  the fact.  The  court                                                            
didn't  address this.   What  the court  addressed was  that we  had                                                            
language  that  didn't  clearly state  what  we  were doing  in  the                                                            
language  that we've  extracted.   It's  good  to extract  it.   The                                                            
language here  is a policy change.  It does not keep  the program at                                                            
the  status quo,  it  instead changes  so  that more  families  will                                                            
receive  the two-parent  -  the 50  percent reduction  during  those                                                            
summer months because it ...                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 01-31, SIDE B                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
[MS BOMENGEN  continued.]  ... the exception  that the division  was                                                            
able to  recognize because  it was borrowed  from the AFDC  concept.                                                            
The court doesn't  have an opinion about what the  policy is that is                                                            
adopted here.   If that is the policy  that this committee  chooses,                                                            
that's beside the point for the court."                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD  asked what, in Ms. Bomengen's  opinion, the  court has                                                            
asked the legislature to do, if anything.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said  the court has asked DHSS, as long  as the statute                                                            
contains the language  "unemployment of the family's  principal wage                                                            
earner"  to make  an  evaluation of  the  employment  status of  the                                                            
principal wage  earner.  The court has not asked the  legislature to                                                            
change the  law, it has only  said this is  what DHSS must  do under                                                            
the existing law.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD  commented that DHSS  must write new regulations  then.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. BOMENGEN said it will  and it will have to analyze each family's                                                            
relative unemployment status.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked  Mr. Nordlund and Ms. Bomengen to provide the                                                            
committee with  a definition of Native villages and  she asked for a                                                            
side-by-side  comparison  of  the two  versions  of the  bill.   She                                                            
commented  that  the less  language  that must  be added  to  create                                                            
additional  exceptions  the better,  and that  it is  her intent  to                                                            
perfect that language.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WARD asked,  regarding the people who will  never be able to                                                            
get off of public  assistance, at what point in time  they should be                                                            
transferred  to another  program.  He  asked if  there has been  any                                                            
discussion about other  possible programs that might be addressed in                                                            
this bill.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. NORDLUND  said a  number of states  have done  that.  Some  ATAP                                                            
clients  have  disabilities  or incapacities   that are  not  severe                                                            
enough to  qualify for social  security income  but they are  severe                                                            
enough to prevent those  clients from holding a job.  He agrees that                                                            
finding a way to transfer  those clients to a different program is a                                                            
good idea that  needs to be explored  as DHSS learns more  about how                                                            
many  clients  will  fall in  this  category.    For now,  they  can                                                            
continue to be served under  ATAP as long as there is room under the                                                            
cap but  as more people  hit the  60 month limit,  that cap  will be                                                            
reached.                                                                                                                        

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