Legislature(2019 - 2020)BUTROVICH 205
04/08/2019 01:30 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES
Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
Download Video part 1. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE SENATE HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE April 8, 2019 1:30 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator David Wilson, Chair Senator John Coghill, Vice Chair Senator Gary Stevens Senator Cathy Giessel Senator Tom Begich MEMBERS ABSENT All members present COMMITTEE CALENDAR SENATE BILL NO. 1 "An Act repealing the certificate of need program for health care facilities; making conforming amendments; and providing for an effective date." - MOVED CSSB 1(HSS) OUT OF COMMITTEE SENATE BILL NO. 58 "An Act repealing the senior benefits payment program; and providing for an effective date." - HEARD & HELD PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION BILL: SB 1 SHORT TITLE: REPEAL CERTIFICATE OF NEED PROGRAM SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) WILSON 01/16/19 (S) PREFILE RELEASED 1/7/19 01/16/19 (S) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS 01/16/19 (S) HSS, FIN 03/27/19 (S) HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 03/27/19 (S) Heard & Held 03/27/19 (S) MINUTE(HSS) 03/29/19 (S) HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 03/29/19 (S) -- MEETING CANCELED -- 04/01/19 (S) HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 04/01/19 (S) Heard & Held 04/01/19 (S) MINUTE(HSS) 04/08/19 (S) HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 BILL: SB 58 SHORT TITLE: REPEALING SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM SPONSOR(s): RULES BY REQUEST OF THE GOVERNOR 02/13/19 (S) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS 02/13/19 (S) HSS, FIN 04/08/19 (S) HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 WITNESS REGISTER GARY ZEPP, Staff Senator David Wilson Alaska State Legislature Juneau, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Explained the amendment to SB 1. SHAWNDA O'BRIEN, Director Division of Public Assistance Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Juneau, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Introduced SB 58 on behalf of the administration. LORILYN SWANSON, representing self Juneau, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. VIKKI JO KENNEDY, representing self Kodiak, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. BOB HARRISON, representing self Nikiski, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. CHARLES MCKEE, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: During the hearing on SB 58, spoke about a court case. JAVEN OSE, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. DJ BLATCHFORD, representing self Soldotna, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. DELICE CALCOTE, representing self Sutton, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. KEN HELANDER, Alaska Director of Advocacy AARP Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. JIM HORNADAY, representing self Homer, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. ART GRISWOLD, representing self Delta Junction, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. GINGER FORTIN, representing self Ketchikan, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. ROSEMARY RUOFF, representing self Wrangell, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. ALBERT NINNGEULOOK, representing self Shishmaref, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. DAVID BLACKETER, Member Alaska Commission on Aging Kodiak, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. JONATHAN STRONG, Island Cove Director Senior Citizens of Kodiak, Inc. Kodiak, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. JON ZASADA, Policy Integration Director Alaska Primary Care Association Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. JAYNE ANDREEN, Volunteer Advocate AARP Juneau, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director Alaska Commission on Aging POSITION STATEMENT: Juneau, Alaska Opposed SB 58. LAURA BONNER, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. WILLIAM HARRINGTON, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. MARIANNE BURKE, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. GARY MCDONALD, representing self Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. HERMAN MORGAN, representing self Aniak, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. ELIZABETH MOE, representing self Houston, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. LARRY SLONE, representing self Homer, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Opposed SB 58. ACTION NARRATIVE 1:30:58 PM CHAIR DAVID WILSON called the Senate Health and Social Services Standing Committee meeting to order at 1:30 p.m. Present at the call to order were Senators Stevens, Coghill, Giessel, Begich, and Chair Wilson. SB 1-REPEAL CERTIFICATE OF NEED PROGRAM 1:31:16 PM CHAIR WILSON announced the consideration of SB 1. He noted that the committee heard an overview of the bill March 27, adopted a work draft committee substitute (CS), and took invited testimony from subject matter experts. On April 1 the committee heard from additional subject matter experts, and took public testimony. 1:31:42 PM CHAIR WILSON offered Amendment 1. 31-LS0001\M.1 Marx 4/2/19 AMENDMENT 1 OFFERED IN THE SENATE BY SENATOR WILSON TO: CSSB1 ( ), Draft Version "M" Page 5, following line 8: Insert new bill sections to read: "* Sec. 8. The uncodified law of the State of Alaska is amended by adding a new section to read: TRANSITION: REGULATIONS. The Department of Health and Social Services may adopt regulations necessary to implement the changes made by this Act. The regulations take effect under AS 44.62 (Administrative Procedure Act), but not before the effective date of this Act. * Sec. 9. Section 8 of this Act takes effect immediately under AS 01.10.070(c)." Renumber the following bill section accordingly. Page 5, line 9: Delete "This" Insert "Except as provided in sec. 9 of this Act, this" 1:31:51 PM SENATOR COGHILL moved to adopt Amendment 1. 1:31:55 PM CHAIR WILSON objected for purposes of discussion. 1:32:05 PM GARY ZEPP, Staff, Senator David Wilson, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, said that Senator Begich brought up a good point for clarification: if SB 1 in its current form passed the legislature, what would happen to the regulations. This amendment clarifies that. Amendment M.1 is a transition for regulations. It allows and encourages the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to adopt regulations necessary to implement the changes in SB 1, so that on July 1, 2024, the regulations would be in place and ready to be effective. CHAIR WILSON said the committee would get of a copy of the Legislative Legal opinion to the committee. 1:33:26 PM SENATOR BEGICH clarified that if the legislature did repeal Certificate of Need, but they have regulations enacted that deal with Certificate of Need issues, those regulations will still be in effect even though the statute itself has been removed. MR. ZEPP replied that the advice from Legislative Legal is that that is correct. CHAIR WILSON removed his objection. There being no further objection, Amendment 1, M.1, was adopted. CHAIR WILSON asked if there were any final questions on the bill. SENATOR BEGICH said he asked Mr. Zepp for information about rural hospitals closures in North Dakota and Idaho when the committee last met. Mr. Zepp told him that to his knowledge, that since Certificate of Need programs were abolished in those states, there have been no rural hospital closures. He thanked Mr. Zepp for giving him the information. 1:35:17 PM CHAIR WILSON solicited a motion. 1:35:20 PM SENATOR COGHILL moved CSSB 1, Version M as amended, from committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. 1:35:32 PM the Senate Health and Social Services Standing Committee with the understanding that Legislative Legal is authorized to make any necessary technical and/or conforming adjustments. 1:35:46 PM At ease SB 58-REPEALING SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM 1:37:20 PM CHAIR WILSON announced the consideration of SB 58. He announced his intention to have an overview of the bill and a sectional analysis and take public testimony. 1:37:58 PM SHAWNDA O'Brien, Director, Division of Public Assistance, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Juneau, Alaska, said the two fiscal notes attached to the bill highlight reductions to the Senior Benefits Payment Program as well as reductions to staffing levels for the administration of the program. The public assistance field services component in the fiscal note represents the administrative costs to run the program. These are eligibility staff who do the eligibility determinations and case reviews for the program recipients. There are some minimal costs for printing warrants and sending out notifications. The other fiscal note is the benefits themselves. CHAIR WILSON asked for the reasoning behind the bill. MS. O'BRIEN replied that the governor's budget proposed to reduce or eliminate the program entirely. The governor's amended budget has a decrement to the funding sources for the senior benefits. In order to implement that reduction, the bill is needed to eliminate the program from statute. 1:39:42 PM SENATOR STEVENS said he needs a better explanation of who the bill impacts and what it does to people. MS. O'BRIEN replied that the committee packets have information about the program, including some demographic information about who is being served by which payment category. The high-level overview has facts about how the program is administered, who it serves, criteria eligibility, historical information since the program's inception in 1972, and where the population being served resides. Page 3 of the overview shows where the recipients are statewide as of December 2018. SENATOR STEVENS said that the public needs a fuller explanation of the impact. MS. O'BRIEN said, that to address that, the benefit tiers are $76, $, and $250 a month. The program is serving just under 12,000. The funding has been insufficient to fully fund all three tiers. This year the lowest payment tier is $76 a month because of insufficient funding. There are several reasons for that. As they review eligibility each year and the criteria for that eligibility changes, different income levels will be adjusted and people go into other payment categories, which bumps those costs up annually. They are not seeing a significant growth in the number of people eligible for the program. It has stayed consistent over the years, but they are seeing a bit more cost in the higher payment categories of the program. One handout shows how many recipients are in each payment category. It also gives some demographics of counts by age and gender. MS. O'BRIEN said the majority of the recipients are female. The program serves people 65 and older; the oldest recipient is over the age of 85. To be eligible for the program, there are different categories of income. Savings are not counted, but other assets may be counted. The income levels change annually based on federal poverty levels. Payments are not available to seniors living in any of these institutions: prison or jail, the Alaskan Pioneer Home, Veterans Home, nursing home, or a private institution for mental disease. 1:44:28 PM SENATOR COGHILL said this came out of a debate on the longevity bonus some time ago. The compromise was to make the program needs-based. The longevity bonus was based on time in Alaska. Part of the argument was they had adult public assistance with different criteria from the Senor Benefits Program. He asked how many are receiving both and what would be the impact on them. MS. O'BRIEN replied that they do have populations being served by multiple programs. Most commonly, recipients of senior benefits, in some cases, would be eligible for adult public assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Some receive energy assistance benefits. Some may receive supplemental security income. About 3,000 people, as of December 2018, are receiving senior benefits only. SENATOR COGHILL asked if that means around 10,000 are getting other benefits. MS. O'BRIEN said it would be around 8,000 to 9,000. SENATOR BEGICH said he is troubled. The service array available for seniors may alleviate concerns about getting rid of this program. She mentioned that the number of people in the higher tiers, the most in need, has gone up. They are talking about, over time, more people slipping into the higher-needs program, but the idea is to eliminate the program. For him, it is a philosophical issue. Senator von Imhoff in the Finance Committee said that it was not a question of the money available, it is a question of priorities. He asked if the department's priority is that this program be cut. MS. O'BRIEN replied that the department reviewed areas that received general funds that are not tied to federal dollars, so they have more flexibility in terms of the approvals needed to implement reductions. Since this program is state-funded only, it gets looked at more closely, even though the impact is significant. SENATOR BEGICH said that she should understand his reluctance to support this kind of bill. This is the wrong tack for dealing with the state's fiscal responsibility by constitution and statute. The longevity bonus program existed for many years prior to its repeal and replacement in 2003 by the very compromise that Senator Coghill described. For the last two years, the committee has listened to so much testimony in support of the senior benefits program and the impact it has on lives. They have rejected the increases to the program that have been requested. He will not support this bill or this particular effort by the administration to solve the perceived fiscal crisis. He will be adamantly opposed to this. SENATOR COGHILL said that Senator Begich brings up a good point. They have to be careful. He asked if they reduce this, knowing that all these people are on some kind of fixed income, will this reduction change their eligibility in other arenas. He asked if there is some way of alleviating those who need it or is this the last stop. MS. O'BRIEN replied that by eliminating this program, some recipients may be eligible for increased benefits for food stamps or adult public assistance. They will look at the eligibility for the entire population that they are serving. If the program is eliminated July 1, they will be doing eligibility redeterminations for those receiving food stamps or public assistance to adjust as necessary. That is an increased body of work that they are preparing staff for now. SENATOR COGHILL said that a couple of things attract him to this. One is that they will need fewer state workers. On one end of the building they are writing checks for adult public assistance and on the other end they are writing checks to this. That was his original complaint about this whole thing to begin with. They all have on their minds not to harm people who live in an escalating health care environment and declining cash capacity. It is important not to leave them high and dry, but if they can take care of them with less government, this might be okay. He will be listening to public testimony on that, but maybe they can figure this out for those who have other benefits. CHAIR WILSON asked if the administration looked at Senator Coghill's idea of combining senior payments with adult public assistance program for cost savings. MS. O'BRIEN clarified that the chair is stating that instead of having distinct programs, they would have one program to serve the same population in both areas or are they looking at the eligibility work itself. CHAIR WILSON replied that as a subset of a program within adult public assistance, a senior could quality for an additional benefit. MS. O'BRIEN replied that the purpose of the adult public assistance program is to satisfy federal requirements for serving the aged, blind, and disabled. It has a different demographic need than the senior benefits program. Some of the same population is being served through both programs by the nature of some of the criteria. The aged, blind, and disabled program is administered through the Social Security Administration and is also used to satisfy the maintenance of effort requirement to receive Medicaid funding. The senior benefits program has a distinctly different purpose, though some people are served by both. For it to become a subset of the adult public assistance program would require partnering with the Social Security Administration to find out how or if they could expand on the rules and regulations around that program to include another tier of recipients. She is not familiar enough with that process to answer that question. CHAIR WILSON responded, "Plausible." MS. O'BRIEN said it is always worth asking. 1:55:32 PM SENATOR STEVENS said he did remember the longevity bonus issue and the turmoil it caused the legislature. Everyone over 65 received the longevity bonus, regardless of income. The wife of a bank president was angry with him for taking that away from her. It was hard for the legislature to deal with. Everyone over 65 was angry with them. Fewer people will be angry with this, but they will be upset. It was hard to go to a needs-based program. It probably made sense. Senator Coghill brought up the question of whether there are other programs that other people will be eligible for if they eliminate this. He asked if a study is being done so they will know the real implications. MS. O'BRIEN replied that they are preparing to do that work now. They know the population that already has crossover. Those cases will be easy to look at to do that determination. For the 3,000 recipients who are only receiving the senior payments, they would need to apply for other programs to be determined eligible. At the time they would send out notifications to let the entire recipient pool know the program is no longer going to be in the budget, they would notify everyone. If recipients want to be considered for other programs, they would be looked at that time. SENATOR STEVENS said that what she is saying is that it would be difficult to predict that at this moment. The only way to know is to remove the program and see what the result is. MS. O'BRIEN answered for the population already receiving benefits under the other two programs, they will automatically look at their eligibility to do any adjustments to their benefits. SENATOR BEGICH asked that when Ms. O'Brien is doing that research, if she could examine the impacts of all the cuts affecting the senior population instead of isolated looks. It appears to him, that they are the most vulnerable populations that will be impacted by multiple cuts. They should know that if they are going to make decisions about whether to take services away from somebody. MS. O'BRIEN replied that they have some examples they have prepared at a very high level. Eligibility determination is complex and each individual situation will have a different determination. They do have some examples they can share with the committee of what each reduction in the budget would do to a person receiving all the benefits and for people who are only on one or two of the programs. They wanted to know what that impact would be and to prepare for the work that would be coming as a result. SENATOR BEGICH asked if they would look at the impact of proposed Medicaid cuts on these populations. MS. O'BRIEN answered that they are including the Medicaid reductions. CHAIR WILSON asked if there is a hold harmless clause for senior benefits. MS. O'BRIEN asked if he were speaking about the permanent fund dividend hold harmless provisions. CHAIR WILSON replied something similar to that for the Senior Benefits Payment Program. MS. O'BRIEN answered there is not. 2:00:42 PM CHAIR WILSON opened public testimony. 2:01:08 PM LORILYN SWANSON, representing self, Juneau, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said she has managed Fireweed Place, an apartment building for seniors, for 25 years. She served on the Alaska medical care advisory committee and the Juneau Commission on Aging. She asked the committee to allow the program to continue and to make sure it is fully funded in the operating budget. Through senior advocacy groups, of which she was part of, working with the legislature, the initial senior care program was established in response to Governor Murkowski's cut to the longevity bonus in 2003, which supported all Alaskans 65 and older with a payment of $250 a month. At that time, it was recognized that there was an absolute need to offer financial support for a portion of the senior population. That basic need has continued. State support has evolved over the years to the three tiers. The Senior Benefits Program is designed to assist those 65 and older under who fall under the federal poverty law for income and who are among the most vulnerable seniors in the state. She asked them to please put a stop to the growing anxiety overtaking the state. Alaska senior citizens, their constituents, depend on this program for basic essentials and are fearful a portion of their financial security will be eliminated. Seniors in Tier 1 will take a 26 percent cut in income if the program is cut. 2:04:09 PM VIKKI JO KENNEDY, representing self, Kodiak, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said this is going to impact a lot of seniors. She is going to be one of those seniors this year. She currently lives on $279 a month. By the grace of God, she has HUD housing. This will affect the most vulnerable people there are. Perhaps they could skinny it down to an on-needed basis. 2:05:49 PM BOB HARRISON, representing self, Nikiski, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he is a Nikiski senior on a fixed income receiving the benefits of this program. Many need it more than him. Seniors are the most vulnerable Alaskans to a reduction of income. The cost of living goes up, income stays static or goes down. When the longevity bonus was eliminated, it was his understanding that benefits would continue, just restructured. Seniors are a valuable resource to their community. They volunteer. Find another way to take care of cuts and vote no on SB 58. 2:07:38 PM CHARLES MCKEE, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, spoke about a court case and fraud. 2:10:27 PM JAVEN OSE, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said so they want to take his money away. This will be the second time. They want to take his permanent fund, etc. He arrived in 1956 in the territorial days. He worked his whole life for small change. He gets about $12,000 income in Social Security. The committee members make that in one month. 2:13:16 PM DJ BLATCHFORD, representing self, Soldotna, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said they have worked all their lives. She has worked up to four jobs at one time while raising 9 children. The people have great needs. The elders set the trail. They would appreciate the crumbs they are trying to deny them. 2:15:03 PM DELICE CALCOTE, representing self, Sutton, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said she worked for the tribes of Alaska. A lot of elders do not get help. She asked how they get information out about the program. She had not received any notification about it. That is their account. Poverty is a sin. It is wrong to keep people in poverty. They should listen to the people. 2:17:00 PM KEN HELANDER, Alaska Director of Advocacy, AARP, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said two summers ago the Senior Benefits Program was up for reauthorization. Representatives Spohnholz and Kawasaki held an informal listening session. For three hours, more than 50 people called from every part of the state about what the program meant to them. This money, as small an amount as it is, helps the recipients to live independently with purpose, to maintain their own health, and to make a difference in the community. One woman called to say that her $76 a month allowed her to keep her car running. She was the only one in her circle of friends who still had a car. She helped friends and neighbors who needed to get to the doctor or grocery store. She was the transportation system for her individual community. If her car were to become inoperable, many would have lost transportation. Others told similar stories of working to be of help to others. This is not about a handout. It is about an investment to help prevent elderly Alaskans to avoid being poor in spirit. They are more expensive if they can't live on their own. The Senior Benefits Program is an investment with great return. The cost of losing it would be so much greater. 2:19:45 PM JIM HORNADAY, representing self, Homer, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said these are the neediest people. If they cut it out, a number of people will miss meals. He also asked them to not close schools and college campuses and to consider revenues, not just cutting. 2:20:32 PM ART GRISWOLD, representing self, Delta Junction, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he will be 85 in ten days. He and his wife were active in the senior housing program there. He and wife bring food boxes to seniors. They know the needs of seniors. If they cut this program it is not just a few dollars they are cutting. The seniors depend on that to survive. A number of people in senior housing could not afford to stay in senior housing. They need the money to fulfill their needs. 2:21:45 PM GINGER FORTIN, representing self, Ketchikan, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said that she belongs to group of people with traumatic brain injuries, most of whom are unable to go out and work. She was testifying for them. Most are seniors who depend on the Senior Benefits Program. She asked why the governor was cutting benefits from the neediest. They are unable to go out and work and they need this program. 2:22:36 PM ROSEMARY RUOFF, representing self, Wrangell, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said that the legislators need to understand that they are younger and not walking in the same shoes as older folks. The legislators cannot feel what old folk are feeling. They receive a salary and live on the fat of the land. There are those who do not. She speaks from personal experience. She can tell them that when someone gets gray hair and wrinkles no one wants that person for employment. It is so difficult to stretch a dollar each month. Inflation is there like a roaring lion. A dollar buys very little and medication is expensive. The money from the Senior Benefits Program is not only appreciated, but it is vitally important. She asked why they would take money from people who vitally need it. 2:24:49 PM ALBERT NINNGEULOOK, representing self, Shishmaref, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he is also testifying for many seniors. Many seniors in Alaska pioneered and helped Alaska grow, so the governor would come to appreciate the sacrifices and dedication that even his own grandfather and father-in-law participated in. The state honors its elders and seniors who deserve to be helped financially. Terminating senior payments takes money away from those who depend on the program to survive in their golden years. Living in Alaska, especially in Shishmaref, is hard. A loaf of bread is about $4 a loaf and heating fuel is $5 a gallon. The Senior Benefits Program is a big help to seniors in villages and throughout rural Alaska. He hopes the legislature and governor will come to understand that the program is needed. He referred to the testimony that seniors could be eligible for other programs and asked how food stamp recipients can buy medicine because he knows many seniors who use it to buy medicine. 2:27:29 PM DAVID BLACKETER, Member, Alaska Commission on Aging, Kodiak, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he and his wife each get $76 a month. That was reduced from $125. His rent is due the first of the month and he receives Social Security the third of the month. There is a penalty if the landlord does not get the rent on time, so they use their money to pay the rent on time. It is also for emergencies like car repairs. He has been requested by the chair on the Commission on Aging to ask them to say no to SB 58. He is amazed that last year the legislature wholeheartedly passed HB 236, which extended senior benefits program by six years and restored the tier he is in. He finds it strange that they want to take it away now. 2:29:49 PM JONATHAN STRONG, Island Cove Director, Senior Citizens of Kodiak, Inc., Kodiak, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he is the program director for adult day and day rehabilitation programs. He recounted a story about a person who had been referred to them who panhandled and shoplifted to meet basic needs. He helped that person apply for senior benefits once that person turned 65. He received the top tier payment, which changed this person's life dramatically. This person was on adult public assistance, which was $1 a month, but did not receive SNAP food assistance. The senior program gave this person a better quality of life. 2:31:19 PM JON ZASADA, Policy Integration Director, Alaska Primary Care Association, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said the health centers his organization represents oppose elimination of the Senior Benefits Program. They want to focus on how the bill would affect the social determinants of health of patients. Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born live, grow, and age and include financial resources, food security, and access to affordable housing. While modest in size, the Senior Benefits Program provides basic income. They fear that if the program is cut, seniors who use the benefit for medicine and other health expenditures for chronic conditions will end up in emergency rooms and higher acuity emergency centers, which will raise the cost of care and reduce their health outcomes. They are very fearful about the elimination of the program. 2:33:19 PM JAYNE ANDREEN, Volunteer Advocate, AARP, Juneau, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said as people age, they go through a continuum of possible care in living situations. The most cost effective is for people to live independently in their own homes. As people age, sometimes they have to move into the higher-cost categories. One thing that is key to recognize with the Senior Benefits Program is that it allows people at the lowest level of income to stay independent. If they are looking at cost effectiveness, keep the Senior Benefits Program. They have heard a lot of stories over the last two years as they looked at the sunset legislation that was due to expire last Juneau. It is painful to be back here reiterating the importance of the program, which impacts the most vulnerable of the population. 2:35:03 PM DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director, Alaska Commission on Aging, Juneau, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said that the Alaska Commission on Aging reflects the view of its members, not of the administration. They have advocated for the Senior Benefits Program since its inception in 2007. Financial security is a worry among older people. The last senior survey done in 2018 shows that financial, economic security is the second most important issue for seniors in Alaska, behind access to health care. The program is good public policy. It puts money directly in the hands of seniors who know best how to use the money to improve their health and welfare. Statewide, about one in eight seniors participate in the program. 2:37:50 PM LAURA BONNER, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said she is retired and has been fortunate not to be eligible for the program, even though she is old enough. The repeal of the Senior Benefits Program will cause the vulnerable to fall further into poverty. Many are women who worked in low- paying jobs or left employment to care for others. She asked the committee members if they could live on $1,000 a month, especially with a chronic condition. She asked what they would choose to pay for--medicine, rent, heat, transportation, or food. Malnutrition is all too common in the senior population anyway. It is unconscionable to eliminate this program, but not eliminate oil tax credits for the wealthiest corporations in the world. There has been little or no analysis on how SB 58 will impact those who need the benefit. She heard the companion bill, HB 60, presented in the House. The presenters said it was easier to cut this program than other programs. SB 58 hurts those who need the benefits and it is not good for Alaskans. 2:39:57 PM WILLIAM HARRINGTON, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he is 70 years old and here before the pipeline boomers. For a government so rich and foolish in its spending (grain silos, etc.) to stomp on the ability of the most vulnerable to live healthy and independently is reprehensible. He doesn't qualify for this benefit, but it is morally reprehensive to abandon the elderly population. 2:40:58 PM MARIANNE BURKE, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said that her father came to them with hardly any Social Security and severe dementia. The $250 a month helped them to take care of him with food, medication, and clothes. He is now in assisted care and they use the money for his care. They couldn't get him on Medicaid for a year because he was deemed to have too many assets, even though they really weren't worth anything. The Senior Benefit Program cut through all that. 2:43:07 PM GARY MCDONALD, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he will be 65 next year and asked them not to pick on senior citizens. He suggested they go after the fraud in the food stamp program and leave senior citizens alone. It is appalling that they have to have these type of call-ins. 2:44:21 PM HERMAN MORGAN, representing self, Aniak, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said he is 65 years old. This is going to hit people so hard. The same could be said for taking away people's permanent funds. They are taking away from the poorest people. He asked them not to cut senior benefits and the permanent fund for the people. The House is using the former governor's budget. They say the Senate is doing that also. Two wrongs don't make a right. Cut the education budget. They always say education is good for our kids, but what good is it if it is the lowest in the nation and the University of Alaska Anchorage lost their accreditation. It is hard in rural Alaska. By cutting the permanent fund and programs like this, they drive 25,000 people to live below the poverty people. A jar of mayonnaise in Aniak costs $17.99. Mr. Morgan said cutting the permanent fund and Senior Benefits is irresponsible. He told the committee not to listen to the lobbyists but listen to people who are not state employees and need the money. They should not spend the money on programs that are not working. This program is working. They should give the money back to the private economy. 2:47:17 PM ELIZABETH MOE, representing self, Houston, Alaska, opposed SB 58. She said they are going about it all wrong. Seniors are walking, talking encyclopedias and they should utilize their knowledge. They need to take the oil tax credit and pay for social services and senior programs and not take away from people who built the nation. 2:50:05 PM LARRY SLONE, representing self, Homer, Alaska, opposed SB 58. He said retain the program but with serious modifications. It is unquestionable that the program is crucial for a decent quality of life for some individuals who are living on the edge. But for each of those persons, there is another who does not really need the money, people such as himself, for instance, who own their homes, have money in the bank, and have health care taken care of by the VA. It is not a crucial need for him, but he is still afforded the opportunity to access that. He guesses about half the users need the program and the other half are basically taking money out of the state coffers that could be used for more important purposes. 2:51:33 PM CHAIR WILSON noted that people can submit written testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org. He closed public testimony. 2:52:19 PM SENATOR GIESSEL thanked all the seniors who called in. It might be helpful for them to know that there are 20 senators in the Alaska Senate and four of them are seniors. The oldest three sit on this committee. Two senators have parents in the Pioneer Homes. Six senators are territorial kids who were born in Alaska before it was a state. She wanted to assure those who called in that there is longevity in the Alaska Senate. If her mother were still lucid, she would be calling in today to see this program continue. SENATOR GIESSEL said what she is looking to hear from the department is the ramifications of this repeal. She is very disappointed with the administration in offering a policy bill like this without thorough data on its implications to other programs and how many people would lose all kinds of support if this were to be repealed. She thinks that if this bill doesn't pass, then this piece in the budget can go nowhere because they need statutory authority to repeal the program. She hopes they get some information from the department. SENATOR BEGICH said he echoes the comments of the Senate president. H noted that he was born in the state, but his sister was born in the territory. The question that came up for him during testimony was hearing that a cut could have an impact on independent living. They could be faced with a greater cost in terms of supporting those who would no longer be able to live independently. They have spent decades moving their most vulnerable populations toward independent living, not only because of the dignity involved, but because it is less expensive for people to work with families and neighborhoods and live in their own homes than to become a ward of the state. They should know the impact before being asked to make this policy decision. He asked if they can get that information. He wanted to let the people on the phone know that this is not a proposal that came from the Alaska Senate. A number of those who testified who said, "You people are doing this." This is a proposal from the governor that they are considering in committee, and hopefully, through deliberation, they will come up with the right answer. But they need the right information to come up with the right answer. He asked Director O'Brien if they could know the impact of taking people off independent living and consequently placing them on greater public assistance because they cannot live independently. They can't tell them the social cost, but they ought to be able to tell them the monetary cost. That ought to be quantifiable. MS. O'BRIEN replied that they will need to get into some detailed case information to find examples of what might happen to people who may not be eligible for other programs. Sometimes if recipients own their homes, for example, or have other assets, they may not have as many options as others may do. To be considered for certain assistance programs or living arrangements, people have to liquidate their assets. They could put together some of those scenarios that would give a more detailed look at the impacts. 2:57:42 PM CHAIR WILSON said he wanted to put on the record that some can't choose where they are born, but some at age 18 bought a plane ticket to come to Alaska because they knew where they wanted to spend their lives. He hopes this is his home for now and forever. [CHAIR WILSON held SB 58 in committee.] 2:58:35 PM There being no further business to come before the committee, Chair Wilson adjourned the Senate Health and Social Services Standing Committee at 2:58 p.m.