Legislature(2013 - 2014)BUTROVICH 205

03/19/2014 01:30 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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Heard & Held
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Heard & Held
         HB 263-EXTEND SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM                                                                      
1:33:44 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STEDMAN  announced the consideration  of HB 263.  [CSHB 263                                                               
(HSS) was before the committee.]                                                                                                
CECILE ELLIOTT,  Staff, Representative Mike Hawker,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature, Juneau, Alaska,  introduced HB 263 on  behalf of the                                                               
sponsor.  She related  that HB  263 extends  the senior  benefits                                                               
program  from June  2015 until  June  2021. It  is a  needs-based                                                               
program   established  in   2007,  and   provides  monthly   cash                                                               
assistance to residents age 65  years or older. The beneficiaries                                                               
receive monthly cash  of $125, $175, or $250,  depending on their                                                               
income.  Approximately 11,000  of Alaska's  lowest income  senior                                                               
citizens will  be served  by this program  in the  current fiscal                                                               
MS. ELLIOTT  referred to  a document in  members' files  from the                                                               
Department of  Health and Social  Services (DHSS) that  shows the                                                               
history of senior benefits under various names.                                                                                 
CHAIR STEDMAN requested a synopsis of that document.                                                                            
MS. ELLIOTT  reported that from  1972 to present there  have been                                                               
four significant changes in senior  benefits. The Longevity Bonus                                                               
Program  became the  Senior Assistance  Program, then  the Senior                                                               
Care  Program,  and  currently,   the  Senior  Benefits  Program.                                                               
Changes were  made due to  costs and prioritizing the  most needy                                                               
to receive a benefit.                                                                                                           
CHAIR STEDMAN noted  the intent of the committee is  to hear from                                                               
the sponsor, take public testimony, and set HB 263 aside.                                                                       
1:36:24 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
1:36:50 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  STEDMAN  asked the  committee  members  if they  have  any                                                               
SENATOR MEYER recalled the history  of changes in senior benefits                                                               
programs. He asked how the current program is working out.                                                                      
MS.  ELLIOTT said  there  are 11,000  seniors  with the  greatest                                                               
needs benefiting from this program.                                                                                             
SENATOR  MEYER questioned  if the  money is  meeting their  basic                                                               
needs. He asked if the seniors pay taxes on the benefits.                                                                       
MS. ELLIOTT said they do not.                                                                                                   
SENATOR  MEYER asked  if seniors  in a  state-subsidized facility                                                               
receive senior benefits.                                                                                                        
MS. ELLIOTT said no.                                                                                                            
SENATOR MEYER  asked if  there are six  employees working  on the                                                               
1:38:58 PM                                                                                                                    
RON KREHER,  Director, Division of Public  Assistance, Department                                                               
of Health  and Social Services  (DHSS), Juneau,  Alaska, answered                                                               
questions  related to  HB  263.  He related  that  there are  six                                                               
positions  attached  to  the  program   that  have  been  in  the                                                               
operating budget  since the Senior  Benefits Payment  Program was                                                               
MR. KREHER pointed out that  the program is successful because it                                                               
is helping  seniors to be  able to  remain safely in  their homes                                                               
and in their  communities, which is a priority of  DHSS. About 56                                                               
percent of the recipients are  on Adult Public Assistance and the                                                               
program augments  that funding.  Another 30  percent are  on food                                                               
stamps. He concluded that the  seniors who benefit by the program                                                               
are truly needy.                                                                                                                
SENATOR  MEYER  recalled  the tough  decision  when  cutting  the                                                               
Longevity Bonus, which  all seniors got. He asked  if the seniors                                                               
have to enroll every year.                                                                                                      
MR. KREHER said there is an annual renewal process.                                                                             
SENATOR MEYER asked if that is why six staff are needed.                                                                        
MR. KREHER said yes; the staff also monitor other programs.                                                                     
SENATOR  MICCICHE asked  why  asset levels  are  not counted  for                                                               
1:42:00 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. KREHER related  that the program does not have  an asset test                                                               
because  so many  individuals are  receiving benefits  from other                                                               
programs, such  as Medicaid, food stamps,  and public assistance.                                                               
He  noted that  individuals  in  need are  asset  poor and  often                                                               
assets are dedicated to end-of-life events.                                                                                     
SENATOR MICCICHE said he can  understand why someone in a Pioneer                                                               
Home  or  an  Alaska  Veteran's  Home  does  not  receive  senior                                                               
benefits. He  asked why individuals  in private nursing  homes or                                                               
in mental health institutions do not receive senior benefits.                                                                   
MR.  KREHER  said  typically  individuals  that  are  in  a  care                                                               
facility receive a  stipend. When the Senior  Benefit Program was                                                               
reauthorized  several   years  ago,  an  amendment   included  an                                                               
increase in  stipends for  people in  institutionalized settings.                                                               
He stated that for most of  the assistance programs, the level of                                                               
care is being met.                                                                                                              
1:44:29 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE highlighted some  of the supporting documents of                                                               
the bill. He  said in his district, the  Kenai Peninsula Borough,                                                               
there are  over 1,000 recipients  of senior benefits.  He thought                                                               
that number  seemed high  for a borough  with 54,000  people, but                                                               
concluded  that  there  are  income challenges  in  some  of  the                                                               
MR. KREHER opined that the  ratio is representative of the senior                                                               
population in  each borough.  He added that  Alaska has  an aging                                                               
CHAIR STEDMAN  noted a fiscal note  from DHSS for $23  million in                                                               
general  funds for  FY  15, already  included  in the  Governor's                                                               
CHAIR STEDMAN opened public testimony.                                                                                          
1:46:24 PM                                                                                                                    
MARIE DARLIN, Member, AARP, Juneau,  Alaska, testified in support                                                               
of HB 263. She related that  she lives in Fireweed Place, housing                                                               
for seniors of a variety of  income levels. She said many seniors                                                               
are not taking advantage of all  the programs and many don't want                                                               
state  services.  She maintained  that  many  should be  applying                                                               
because they  need help; any  assistance for  independent seniors                                                               
helps keep them  out of facilities. She  said HB 263 is  a way to                                                               
provide much needed help for seniors.                                                                                           
1:48:49 PM                                                                                                                    
DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director,  Alaska Commission on Aging,                                                               
Department of Health and Social  Services (DHSS), Juneau, Alaska,                                                               
testified in  support of HB  263. She  referred to a  letter from                                                               
the Commission in  members' packets. She said  the Commission has                                                               
supported  the  Senior  Benefits  Program  from  its  onset.  She                                                               
stressed  that the  program really  does make  a difference.  She                                                               
shared  that the  average  age of  the recipient  is  75 and  the                                                               
oldest is 107.  She related that often with a  married couple the                                                               
husband gets  sick, they  spend down the  family assets,  and the                                                               
wife is left  a widow. She reported that about  two-thirds of the                                                               
recipients are women.                                                                                                           
SENATOR MICCICHE stated  his support for HB 263  and the previous                                                               
Longevity  Bonus. He  wanted to  encourage seniors  to remain  in                                                               
CHAIR STEDMAN thanked  Ms. Daniello for her  testimony. He closed                                                               
public testimony.                                                                                                               
1:51:43 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. ELLIOT thanked the committee for hearing the bill.                                                                          
CHAIR STEDMAN held HB 263 in committee.                                                                                         

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
CSHJR 25(MLV) verU.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR 25 verA.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR 25 Fiscal Note-MLV.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25 - HR 543 - Background.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25 - HR 543.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25-Explanation of Changes.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25-Sponsor Statement.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25-Support - Congressman Gibson.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25
HJR25-Support-BlueWater.pdf SHSS 3/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
HJR 25