Legislature(2013 - 2014)BUTROVICH 205

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


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= HJR 25 VIETNAM VETS: SERVICE-RELATED DISEASES
Heard & Held
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
= HB 263 EXTEND SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM
Heard & Held
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
      SENATE HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                    
                         March 19, 2014                                                                                         
                           1:33 p.m.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator Bert Stedman, Chair                                                                                                     
Senator Peter Micciche, Vice Chair                                                                                              
Senator Kevin Meyer                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                              
Senator Pete Kelly                                                                                                              
Senator Johnny Ellis                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 263(HSS)                                                                                
"An Act extending the Alaska senior benefits payment program."                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CS FOR HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 25(MLV)                                                                                       
Urging the United  States Congress to restore  the presumption of                                                               
a service connection  for Agent Orange exposure  to United States                                                               
Veterans who served in the waters  defined by and in the airspace                                                               
over the combat zone in Vietnam.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BILL: HB 263                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: EXTEND SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM                                                                             
SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) HAWKER                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
01/21/14       (H)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
01/21/14       (H)       HSS, FIN                                                                                               
02/04/14       (H)       HSS AT 3:00 PM CAPITOL 106                                                                             
02/04/14       (H)       Moved CSHB 263(HSS) Out of Committee                                                                   
02/04/14       (H)       MINUTE(HSS)                                                                                            
02/05/14       (H)       HSS RPT CS(HSS) NT 7DP                                                                                 
02/05/14       (H)       DP: SEATON, REINBOLD, PRUITT, KELLER,                                                                  
                         NAGEAK, TARR, HIGGINS                                                                                  
02/18/14       (H)       FIN AT 1:30 PM HOUSE FINANCE 519                                                                       
02/18/14       (H)       Moved CSHB 263(HSS) Out of Committee                                                                   
02/18/14       (H)       MINUTE(FIN)                                                                                            
02/19/14       (H)       FIN RPT CS(HSS) NT 10DP                                                                                
02/19/14       (H)       DP: HOLMES, MUNOZ, THOMPSON, EDGMON,                                                                   
                         T.WILSON, GUTTENBERG, GARA, COSTELLO,                                                                  
02/19/14       (H)       STOLTZE, AUSTERMAN                                                                                     
02/26/14       (H)       TRANSMITTED TO (S)                                                                                     
02/26/14       (H)       VERSION: CSHB 263(HSS)                                                                                 
02/28/14       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
02/28/14       (S)       HSS, FIN                                                                                               
03/12/14       (S)       HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
03/12/14       (S)       -- MEETING CANCELED --                                                                                 
03/14/14       (S)       HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
03/14/14       (S)       -- MEETING CANCELED --                                                                                 
03/19/14       (S)       HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
BILL: HJR 25                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: VIETNAM VETS: SERVICE-RELATED DISEASES                                                                             
SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) LEDOUX                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
02/03/14       (H)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
02/03/14       (H)       MLV                                                                                                    
02/18/14       (H)       MLV AT 1:00 PM CAPITOL 120                                                                             
02/18/14       (H)       Moved CSHJR 25(MLV) Out of Committee                                                                   
02/18/14       (H)       MINUTE(MLV)                                                                                            
02/19/14       (H)       MLV RPT CS(MLV) 7DP                                                                                    
02/19/14       (H)       DP:    GRUENBERG,   HIGGINS,    SADDLER,                                                               
                         REINBOLD, HUGHES, LEDOUX, FOSTER                                                                       
03/10/14       (H)       TRANSMITTED TO (S)                                                                                     
03/10/14       (H)       VERSION: CSHJR 25(MLV)                                                                                 
03/12/14       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
03/12/14       (S)       HSS, STA                                                                                               
03/19/14       (S)       HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CECILE ELLIOTT, Staff                                                                                                           
Representative Mike Hawker                                                                                                      
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Introduced HB 263 on behalf of the sponsor.                                                               
                                                                                                                                
RON KREHER, Director                                                                                                            
Division of Public Assistance                                                                                                   
Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS)                                                                                 
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Answered questions related to HB 263.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MARIE DARLIN, Member                                                                                                            
AARP                                                                                                                            
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HB 263.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director                                                                                             
Alaska Commission on Aging                                                                                                      
Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS)                                                                                 
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HB 263.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
THOMAS BROWN, Staff                                                                                                             
Representative Gabrielle LeDoux                                                                                                 
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented HJR 25 on behalf of the sponsor.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
JOHN ROSSIE, Executive Director                                                                                                 
Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association                                                                                    
Littleton, Colorado                                                                                                             
POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HJR 25.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:33:07 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR BERT STEDMAN  called the Senate Health  and Social Services                                                             
Standing Committee meeting  to order at 1:33 p.m.  Present at the                                                               
call to order were Senators Micciche, Meyer, and Chair Stedman.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
         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                                                               
year.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
questions.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
established.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
eligibility.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
communities.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. KREHER opined that the  ratio is representative of the senior                                                               
population in  each borough.  He added that  Alaska has  an aging                                                               
population.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR STEDMAN  noted a fiscal note  from DHSS for $23  million in                                                               
general  funds for  FY  15, already  included  in the  Governor's                                                               
budget.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
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                                                               
Alaska.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
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.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
         HJR 25-VIETNAM VETS: SERVICE-RELATED DISEASES                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:52:12 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  STEDMAN  announced the  consideration  of  HJR 25.  [CSHJR                                                               
25(MLV)  was before  the  committee.]  He said  it  is the  first                                                               
hearing on the bill. The intent  is to have the sponsor introduce                                                               
the  resolution, take  public testimony,  and set  the resolution                                                               
aside for further review. He noted a zero fiscal note.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
THOMAS BROWN, Staff, Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, Alaska                                                                    
State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, presented HJR 25 on behalf of                                                                
the sponsor. He provided background information on HJR 25. In                                                                   
1991 Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, which forced the                                                                     
Veterans Administration (VA) to make a presumption of exposure                                                                  
for any Vietnam Veteran who displayed symptoms related to that                                                                  
herbicide and then to provide them with medical or financial                                                                    
benefits.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
He said in 2002, the VA redefined what made a veteran eligible                                                                  
for those benefits, choosing to limit them to only those                                                                        
veterans who had served on the ground, dismissing all the off-                                                                  
shore Navy and Marine personnel from coverage. This was done                                                                    
without any scientific, medical, or legal reasons. Over the last                                                                
six years, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the                                                                     
National Academy of Sciences, has issued four separate reports,                                                                 
including one conducted at the request of the VA, all of which                                                                  
concluded that there are no legitimate reasons to exclude                                                                       
members of the Blue Water Navy from receiving benefits related                                                                  
to Agent Orange.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
He said there is currently a bill before Congress, HR-543, the                                                                  
Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013, which would                                                                       
reverse this arbitrary act of bureaucracy, returning medical                                                                    
benefits and compensation to the veterans who have earned them.                                                                 
There are 174 co-sponsors from both sides of the isle for HR-                                                                   
543, including Don Young.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. BROWN concluded that HJR 25 is simply a resolution to urge                                                                  
Congress to honor veterans and pass the Blue Water Navy Veterans                                                                
Act of 2013. Washington, D.C. has the obligation to provide                                                                     
veterans with medical and financial assistance they deserve.                                                                    
Should HJR 25 pass, copies will be delivered to the President,                                                                  
Vice President, Congress, and the Secretary of Veterans'                                                                        
Affairs. There are potentially hundreds of veterans in need of                                                                  
assistance due to exposure to toxins.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
1:55:24 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MEYER  asked how  many  veterans  this would  affect  in                                                               
Alaska.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. BROWN said there are 609  Alaska veterans who were members of                                                               
the  Blue Water  Navy,  but  it is  unknown  how  many need  this                                                               
assistance.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR STEDMAN opened public testimony.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:56:30 PM                                                                                                                    
JOHN ROSSIE, Executive Director,  Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran                                                               
Association,  Littleton, Colorado,  testified in  support of  HJR                                                               
25.  He described  the association  as an  educational 501(c)(3),                                                               
whose job it is to put  together materials that would educate the                                                               
general  public,  as  well  as   legislators,  about  the  issues                                                               
regarding the change in the VA law.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR STEDMAN closed public testimony.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. BROWN requested that the committee pass the bill.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
1:58:03 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STEDMAN held HJR 25 in committee.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:58:18 PM                                                                                                                    
There being nothing  further to come before  the committee, Chair                                                               
Stedman adjourned  the Senate Health and  Social Service Standing                                                               
Committee at 1:58 p.m.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                

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