Legislature(2019 - 2020)BUTROVICH 205

04/08/2019 01:30 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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        SB 58-REPEALING SENIOR BENEFITS PAYMENT PROGRAM                                                                     
1:37:20 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON reconvened the meeting  and announced that the final                                                               
order of business would be SENATE  BILL NO. 58, "An Act repealing                                                               
the  senior  benefits  payment  program;  and  providing  for  an                                                               
effective date."                                                                                                                
1:37:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SHAWNDA  O'Brien,   Director,  Division  of   Public  Assistance,                                                               
Department  of   Health  and  Social  Services   (DHSS),  Juneau,                                                               
reviewed the  two DHSS fiscal  notes attached to the  bill, which                                                               
would repeal  the senior benefits payment  program effective June                                                               
20,  2019.  The fiscal  note  from  the DHSS,  Public  Assistance                                                               
appropriation, Public  Assistance Field Services  component would                                                               
delete funding  for three fulltime eligibility  staff who perform                                                               
eligibility  determinations  and  case reviews  for  the  program                                                               
recipients.  The  fiscal  note  from the  DHSS,  Senior  Benefits                                                               
Payment  Program  appropriation,   and  Senior  Benefits  Payment                                                               
Program   Allocation,  would   delete   the  program's   original                                                               
authorization  of  $19,986.1  [in  thousands] for  FY  2020,  and                                                               
$24,044.0 for out years with repeal  of the program. She said the                                                               
department would  have some minimal  costs for  printing warrants                                                               
and sending out notifications.                                                                                                  
CHAIR WILSON asked for the reasoning behind the bill.                                                                           
MS.  O'BRIEN  replied  that the  governor's  budget  proposed  to                                                               
reduce or  eliminate the senior  benefits payment  program [often                                                               
referred  to  as the  senior  benefits  program]. 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 senior benefits program from statute.                                                                
1:39:42 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS  asked for a  better explanation of who  the bill                                                               
would impact and the effect it would have on those individuals.                                                                 
MS.  O'BRIEN directed  attention  to three  handouts in  members'                                                               
packets. The information and fact  sheet [titled "senior benefits                                                               
program, Updated January  2019"] includes demographic information                                                               
about senior  recipients being served  in each  payment category.                                                               
The   overview  explains   the   program  administration,   where                                                               
recipients  reside statewide  as  of December  2018, the  program                                                               
criteria  eligibility,  and   historical  information  since  the                                                               
program's inception in 1972.                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS said  that the public needs  a fuller explanation                                                               
of the impact of eliminating the senior benefits program.                                                                       
MS. O'BRIEN explained the benefit  tier amounts were $76, $[175],                                                               
and  $250  a   month.  The  program  serves   just  under  12,000                                                               
recipients per month. The funding  has been insufficient to fully                                                               
fund all  three tiers  of the  program, so  this year  the lowest                                                               
payment  tier of  $76 a  month was  funded. The  division reviews                                                               
eligibility  each  year  and  as  the  criteria  for  eligibility                                                               
changes,  different   income  levels   will  be   adjusted.  Some                                                               
recipients will  move into other payment  categories, which bumps                                                               
up some costs  annually. The division has not  seen a significant                                                               
growth in the  number of people eligible for the  program. It has                                                               
stayed consistent over  the years, but the  program has increased                                                               
costs  for  the higher  payment  categories.  She referred  to  a                                                               
handout [Table  7. [Senior Benefits] Average  Monthly Caseload by                                                               
Census  Area]  shows how  many  recipients  are in  each  payment                                                               
category.  Another  handout  [Alaska  Department  of  Health  and                                                               
Social Services,  Division of Public Assistance,  senior benefits                                                               
program  as  of  December  2018] provides  demographics  for  the                                                               
number of recipients in each benefit year by age and gender.                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN said  the majority of the recipients  are female. The                                                               
program serves  people 65 and  older and the oldest  recipient is                                                               
over the age  of 85. Eligibility for the program  is based on the                                                               
income level  and assets, but  not on savings. The  income levels                                                               
are updated  annually based on  federal poverty  levels. Payments                                                               
are  not available  to  seniors living  in  institutions such  as                                                               
prison  or  jail, the  Alaskan  Pioneer  Home, Veterans  Home,  a                                                               
nursing home, or a private institution for mental disease.                                                                      
1:44:28 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL  said this  program was  created as  a compromise                                                               
when  the longevity  bonus program  was eliminated.  The decision                                                               
was to  make it  a needs-based program.  The longevity  bonus was                                                               
based on the  length of time recipients lived in  Alaska. Part of                                                               
the  argument  was the  adult  public  assistance used  different                                                               
criteria than  the Senor Benefits  Payment Program. He  asked how                                                               
many seniors  receive both benefits  and what  impact eliminating                                                               
the program would have on them.                                                                                                 
MS. O'BRIEN  replied that  some populations  are being  served by                                                               
multiple programs.  Most commonly, recipients of  senior benefits                                                               
are   also  eligible   for  adult   public  assistance   and  the                                                               
Supplemental Nutrition  Assistance Program (SNAP), also  known as                                                               
food stamps.  Some recipients receive energy  assistance benefits                                                               
or federal  supplemental social security  income. As  of December                                                               
2018, 3,000 recipients solely receive the senior benefits.                                                                      
SENATOR COGHILL  asked whether that  meant around  10,000 receive                                                               
other benefits.                                                                                                                 
MS. O'BRIEN answered that it would be around 8,000 to 9,000.                                                                    
1:47:10 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH said he was  troubled. The service array available                                                               
for  seniors  may  alleviate   concerns  about  eliminating  this                                                               
program.  He  recalled that  she  mentioned  that the  number  of                                                               
seniors in the higher tiers of  those most in need has increased.                                                               
He  related his  understanding  the projects  showed more  people                                                               
would slip  into the  higher-needs program,  but this  bill would                                                               
eliminate the program.                                                                                                          
He  said this  is  a  philosophical issue  for  him. He  recalled                                                               
Senator von  Imhoff in the  Finance Committee said it  best, that                                                               
it  was not  a question  of money  being available,  but 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 not  tied to  federal dollars,  since the                                                               
department has  more flexibility  to implement  reductions. Since                                                               
this  program is  a  state-funded program,  it  is examined  more                                                               
closely, even though the impact is significant, she said.                                                                       
SENATOR BEGICH said that she  should understand his reluctance to                                                               
support this kind  of bill. This is the wrong  way to address the                                                               
state's fiscal  responsibility in  the Constitution of  the State                                                               
of Alaska  and in  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 much  testimony  in                                                               
support of  the senior benefits  program and the  positive impact                                                               
it has on  their lives. The legislature has  rejected requests to                                                               
increase the  program. He said he  will not support this  bill or                                                               
any effort  by the administration  to solve the  perceived fiscal                                                               
crisis  by  cutting senior  benefits.  He  said he  is  adamantly                                                               
opposed to this bill.                                                                                                           
SENATOR COGHILL said that Senator  Begich brings up a good point.                                                               
He  expressed concern  about reducing  the program  since all  of                                                               
these seniors are on some kind  of fixed income. He asked whether                                                               
this  reduction  would  change   senior's  eligibility  in  other                                                               
arenas. He asked  whether any refinancing could  happen for those                                                               
who need it or if this is the last stop.                                                                                        
MS.  O'BRIEN  answered that  by  eliminating  this program,  some                                                               
recipients  may  be  eligible for  increased  benefits  for  food                                                               
stamps or adult  public assistance. If the  program is eliminated                                                               
July 1, 2019,  the division will review  recipient eligibility at                                                               
that time.                                                                                                                      
1:51:42 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  COGHILL said  he would  consider eliminating  the senior                                                               
benefits program  if the program  recipients could be  covered by                                                               
other programs. One concern he  has is that public assistance and                                                               
this program each  write checks to the  same recipients. Although                                                               
the committee does not wish  to harm people during the escalating                                                               
health care cost environment by  reducing their cash, it might be                                                               
possible  for the  state  to assist  them  with less  government,                                                               
especially if  the department is conducting  separate eligibility                                                               
determinations. If so, this might  be acceptable. He expressed an                                                               
interest in hearing public testimony.                                                                                           
CHAIR  WILSON asked  whether  the  administration has  considered                                                               
Senator Coghill's  idea of combining  senior payments  within the                                                               
adult public assistance program for cost savings.                                                                               
MS.  O'BRIEN  asked  whether he  was  suggesting  the  department                                                               
combine  programs to  serve the  same population  rather than  to                                                               
have distinct programs, or if  he was speaking to the eligibility                                                               
determination itself.                                                                                                           
CHAIR WILSON replied  that as a subset of a  program within adult                                                               
public  assistance,  a senior  could  quality  for an  additional                                                               
MS.  O'BRIEN  responded 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 department's 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. For  it to                                                               
become  a subset  of the  adult public  assistance program  would                                                               
require  partnering with  the Social  Security Administration  to                                                               
determine if the state could  expand on the rules and regulations                                                               
around that  program to include  another tier of  recipients. She                                                               
said she is not familiar enough  with that process to answer that                                                               
CHAIR WILSON responded that it was plausible.                                                                                   
MS. O'BRIEN said it is always worth asking.                                                                                     
1:55:32 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS recalled  the turmoil  the legislature  had when                                                               
the  longevity bonus  program was  eliminated.  Everyone over  65                                                               
received  the  longevity  bonus,  regardless of  income  and  the                                                               
seniors were  very angry.  At the  time it  was hard  to go  to a                                                               
needs-based program,  but it probably  made sense. He asked  if a                                                               
study  is  being done  so  the  legislature  will know  the  real                                                               
implications of deleting the program.                                                                                           
MS.  O'BRIEN replied  that the  department knows  overlap between                                                               
programs exists. The department  is currently preparing to notify                                                               
all recipients  that the  program will no  longer be  funded. The                                                               
3,000 recipients  who only receive  senior benefit would  need to                                                               
apply  for  other programs  to  determine  their eligibility  for                                                               
other programs.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR  STEVENS related  his understanding  that she  was saying                                                               
that  the department  cannot predict  the overall  effect of  the                                                               
program until it is eliminated.                                                                                                 
MS.  O'BRIEN answered  the department  will automatically  review                                                               
recipients'  eligibility   for  benefits  under  the   other  two                                                               
programs  and make  adjustments to  their benefits.  For example,                                                               
once  the  program is  phased  out,  the Senior  Benefit  Program                                                               
recipients  who  also  receive benefits  under  the  Supplemental                                                               
Nutrition  Assistance  Program  (SNAP)   would  be  eligible  for                                                               
increased  SNAP benefits  due to  lost income.  The amount  would                                                               
vary on a case-by-case basis.                                                                                                   
1:58:33 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  asked whether  the  division  could examine  the                                                               
impacts of all  the cuts affecting the  senior population instead                                                               
of  limiting  the review  to  a  specific program.  He  expressed                                                               
concern that  the vulnerable senior  population will  be impacted                                                               
by  multiple budget  cuts. He  suggested that  the administration                                                               
should understand the overall impact  of the budget cuts prior to                                                               
making  any  decisions  about  eliminating  the  senior  benefits                                                               
MS. O'BRIEN  explained that eligibility determination  process is                                                               
complex, and each  individual will have a  different outcome. The                                                               
division has examples  to show the impact of each  budget cut for                                                               
those receiving all  the benefits and for  others who participate                                                               
in only one or two programs.                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH asked if the division  would look at the impact of                                                               
proposed Medicaid cuts on the senior population.                                                                                
MS.  O'BRIEN  answered  that  the   division  would  include  the                                                               
proposed Medicaid reductions.                                                                                                   
CHAIR WILSON asked if there is  a hold harmless clause for senior                                                               
MS. O'BRIEN answered no. She  asked whether he was speaking about                                                               
the permanent fund dividend hold harmless provisions.                                                                           
CHAIR  WILSON  asked  whether the  senior  benefits  program  had                                                               
something similar.                                                                                                              
MS. O'BRIEN answered no.                                                                                                        
2:00:42 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON opened public testimony on SB 58.                                                                                  
2:01:34 PM                                                                                                                    
LORILYN SWANSON,  representing self, Juneau, spoke  in opposition                                                               
to SB  58. She said  that for the last  25 years she  has managed                                                               
Fireweed  Place,  an  apartment  building for  seniors.  She  has                                                               
served  on the  Alaska Medical  Care Advisory  Committee and  the                                                               
Juneau Commission on  Aging. She urged the committee  to not pass                                                               
SB  58, which  would repeal  the program  and to  fully fund  the                                                               
program in the operating budget.                                                                                                
She  recapped the  program. The  initial senior  benefits program                                                               
was established  in response to  Governor Murkowski's cut  to the                                                               
Longevity  Bonus Program  in 2003.  The  Longevity Bonus  Program                                                               
supported all  Alaskans 65  and older  with a  payment of  $250 a                                                               
month.  The legislature  created the  senior benefits  program 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. Currently,  11,597  Alaska  seniors  are                                                               
recipients of  the program.  The program evolved  over time  to a                                                               
three  tier   needs-based  program  for  seniors.   These  senior                                                               
citizens  depend  on  this  program   for  basic  essentials  and                                                               
deleting  the  program  could adversely  affect  their  financial                                                               
security. Tier  I seniors who  receive $175 per month  would have                                                               
their income cut by 26 percent if the program is eliminated.                                                                    
2:04:09 PM                                                                                                                    
VIKKI JO KENNEDY, representing self,  Kodiak, spoke in opposition                                                               
to  SB 58.  She  said she  is  going  to be  one  of the  seniors                                                               
affected by  the bill. She  currently lives  on $279 a  month and                                                               
lives in  federal low-income housing. She  expressed concern that                                                               
this will affect the most vulnerable people in Alaska.                                                                          
2:05:49 PM                                                                                                                    
BOB HARRISON, representing self,  Nikiski, spoke in opposition to                                                               
SB  58.  He  said he  is  a  Nikiski  senior  on a  fixed  income                                                               
receiving the  benefits of this  program and many people  need it                                                               
more  than him.  Seniors are  the most  vulnerable Alaskans  to a                                                               
reduction of  income. Seniors are  a valuable  community resource                                                               
since  he and  his wife  volunteer  their time  and services.  He                                                               
urged members  to find other ways  to cut the budget  and to vote                                                               
no on SB 58.                                                                                                                    
2:07:38 PM                                                                                                                    
CHARLES MCKEE,  representing self, Anchorage, offered  to provide                                                               
a 34-page document detailing a  court case and fraud, not related                                                               
to SB 58.                                                                                                                       
2:10:27 PM                                                                                                                    
JAVEN OSE,  representing self, Anchorage, spoke  in opposition to                                                               
SB 58.  He expressed  frustration that  the legislature  wants to                                                               
reduce  his  income and  benefits  after  reducing the  permanent                                                               
fund. He arrived in 1956  during the territorial days, worked his                                                               
whole  life,  and  receives about  $12,000  annually  in  federal                                                               
social security benefits.                                                                                                       
2:13:28 PM                                                                                                                    
D.J.   BLATCHFORD,   representing   self,  Soldotna,   spoke   in                                                               
opposition to SB  58. She said she has worked  her whole life, up                                                               
to four jobs  at one time, while raising nine  children. She said                                                               
that  elders  set  the  trail and  would  appreciate  the  senior                                                               
benefits that legislators are trying to deny them.                                                                              
2:15:12 PM                                                                                                                    
DELICE CALCOTE,  representing self,  Sutton, spoke  in opposition                                                               
to SB 58. She  said she worked for the tribes  of Alaska and many                                                               
elders need  this program. She  expressed concern that  this bill                                                               
will increase poverty in Alaska.                                                                                                
2:17:07 PM                                                                                                                    
KEN  HELANDER,  Alaska  Director of  Advocacy,  AARP,  Anchorage,                                                               
spoke in opposition  to SB 58. He recalled  attending an informal                                                               
legislative listening  session two  years ago  by Representatives                                                               
Spohnholz and  Kawasaki during the reauthorization  of the senior                                                               
benefits program. For three hours,  more than 50 people described                                                               
how the program  helped the recipients to  live independently, to                                                               
maintain  their own  health, and  to make  a difference  in their                                                               
communities. For  example, one  woman said  that the  $76 monthly                                                               
senior benefit payment made it  possible to keep her car running,                                                               
enabling her  to provide friends and  neighbors transportation to                                                               
doctor  appointments or  to grocery  stores. Others  told similar                                                               
stories of  working to help  others. These payments  help seniors                                                               
avoid  feeling  poor  in  spirit,  he  said.  The  small  monthly                                                               
payments are  the state's investment  in elderly Alaskans.  It is                                                               
not handout, but a program with great returns.                                                                                  
2:19:45 PM                                                                                                                    
JIM HORNADAY,  representing self,  Homer, spoke in  opposition to                                                               
SB  58. He  said these  recipients  are the  neediest people.  He                                                               
expressed concern that if the  legislature eliminates the program                                                               
a  number  of   people  will  miss  meals.  He   also  asked  the                                                               
legislature  not to  close schools  and college  campuses but  to                                                               
consider revenues and not just budget cuts.                                                                                     
2:20:32 PM                                                                                                                    
ART  GRISWOLD,  representing  self,   Delta  Junction,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition to  SB 58.  He said  he will  be 85  years old  in ten                                                               
days. He and  his wife are active in the  senior housing program,                                                               
bringing food boxes to seniors,  which gives them an awareness of                                                               
seniors'  needs. He  said that  seniors depend  on their  monthly                                                               
benefit checks to survive and  that many seniors could not afford                                                               
to  stay in  senior housing  without the  program. These  seniors                                                               
need the money to fulfill their needs, he said.                                                                                 
2:21:45 PM                                                                                                                    
GINGER FORTIN, representing self,  Ketchikan, spoke in opposition                                                               
to SB  58. She  said that she  belongs to a  group of  people who                                                               
have suffered traumatic  brain injuries, most of  whom are unable                                                               
to work  and depend  on the senior  benefits program  to survive.                                                               
She  expressed concern  that the  governor  was cutting  benefits                                                               
from the neediest Alaskans.                                                                                                     
2:22:36 PM                                                                                                                    
ROSEMARY RUOFF, representing self,  Wrangell, spoke in opposition                                                               
to  SB   58.  She  expressed  concern   that  legislators  cannot                                                               
understand the circumstances or  feelings of many seniors because                                                               
legislators have  good salaries.  In her experience  once someone                                                               
gets gray  hair and  wrinkles it is  difficult to  find employers                                                               
who will hire  them. She described the difficulty  for seniors to                                                               
stretch   their  dollars   because   of   inflation  and   costly                                                               
prescriptions. She said  that the senior benefits  program is not                                                               
only appreciated,  but it  is vitally important,  so she  did not                                                               
understand the reason to cut it.                                                                                                
2:24:49 PM                                                                                                                    
ALBERT  NINNGEULOOK,  representing  self,  Shishmaref,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition to  SB 58.  He said many  seniors in  Alaska pioneered                                                               
and  helped  Alaska  grow. The  governor  should  appreciate  the                                                               
sacrifices and  dedication of his own  grandfather and father-in-                                                               
law.  The state  honors its  elders and  seniors by  helping them                                                               
financially. Seniors  depend on the  program to survive  in their                                                               
golden years,  especially given the  high cost of goods  in rural                                                               
Alaska. For example,  in Shishmaref a loaf of bread  costs $4 and                                                               
heating fuel is  $5 per gallon. He said he  hoped the legislature                                                               
and  governor  would  come  to understand  that  the  program  is                                                               
needed.  He  referred to  earlier  testimony  that seniors  could                                                               
apply  for other  programs,  but how  could  recipients use  food                                                               
stamps to  pay for medicine,  because many seniors  currently use                                                               
their senior benefits to buy medicine.                                                                                          
2:27:29 PM                                                                                                                    
DAVID  BLACKETER,  Member  Alaska Commission  on  Aging,  Kodiak,                                                               
spoke in  opposition to SB 58.  He described how he  and his wife                                                               
use  their $76  monthly senior  benefits checks  for emergencies,                                                               
such  as car  repairs, and  to pay  their rent  timely and  avoid                                                               
penalties  since his  social security  benefits arrive  after the                                                               
rent is due.  He said the chair on the  Commission on Aging asked                                                               
them  to  testify  against  SB  58.  Last  year  the  legislature                                                               
wholeheartedly passed  House Bill 236, which  extended the senior                                                               
benefits program  by six years, so  he found it strange  that the                                                               
state now would like to eliminate the program.                                                                                  
2:29:49 PM                                                                                                                    
JONATHAN  STRONG,  Island  Cove   Director,  Senior  Citizens  of                                                               
Kodiak, Inc.,  Kodiak, spoke in opposition  to SB 58. He  said he                                                               
is the  program director  for an  adult day  care center  and day                                                               
rehabilitation  program. He  described a  person referred  to the                                                               
program as  someone who had  been panhandling and  shoplifting to                                                               
meet basic living  needs. He helped that person  apply for senior                                                               
benefits  and  the senior  benefits  gave  this person  a  better                                                               
quality of life.                                                                                                                
2:31:19 PM                                                                                                                    
JON  ZASADA, Policy  Integration  Director,  Alaska Primary  Care                                                               
Association, Anchorage,  spoke in  opposition to  SB 58.  He said                                                               
the   health   centers   his   organization   represents   oppose                                                               
elimination of the senior benefits  program. He expressed concern                                                               
how  HB  58 would  affect  the  social determinants  and  patient                                                               
health.  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  for  seniors.  He  expressed  concern  that  cutting  the                                                               
program  would have  adverse impacts  for seniors  who use  their                                                               
monthly  benefit  checks  to  cover  medicine  and  other  health                                                               
related costs  to treat chronic  conditions. Without  the monthly                                                               
senior  benefit checks,  these  seniors would  be  forced to  use                                                               
emergency  rooms and  higher acuity  emergency  centers to  treat                                                               
their illnesses.  In turn, it  would raise health care  costs and                                                               
reduce positive health outcomes in Alaska.                                                                                      
2:33:19 PM                                                                                                                    
JAYNE  ANDREEN,  Volunteer  Advocate,   AARP,  Juneau,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition to  SB 58. She  said that the senior  benefits program                                                               
allows  low-income seniors  to live  independently  in their  own                                                               
homes  and   avoid  moving   into  higher-cost   categories.  She                                                               
suggested that  the legislature should  keep the  senior benefits                                                               
program  as  a  cost-effective   measure.  She  recalled  hearing                                                               
numerous  testifiers  speak in  support  of  the program  in  the                                                               
sunset  bill last  year. She  found it  painful to  reiterate the                                                               
importance of the program since  it provides positive impacts the                                                               
most vulnerable population in Alaska.                                                                                           
2:35:03 PM                                                                                                                    
DENISE DANIELLO, Executive Director,  Alaska Commission on Aging,                                                               
Juneau, spoke  in opposition to SB  58. She said that  the Alaska                                                               
Commission on Aging reflects the view  of its members, not of the                                                               
administration.  The  commission  has advocated  for  the  senior                                                               
benefits  program  since its  inception  in  2007. In  2018,  the                                                               
senior survey indicated that financial  and economic security was                                                               
the  second most  important  issue for  seniors  in Alaska,  with                                                               
access  to health  care  their first  priority.  She offered  her                                                               
belief that  the program  is good public  policy because  it puts                                                               
money  directly in  the hands  of seniors  who use  the money  to                                                               
improve their health and welfare.  She reported that about one in                                                               
eight seniors in Alaska participate in the program.                                                                             
2:37:50 PM                                                                                                                    
LAURA BONNER,  representing self, Anchorage, spoke  in opposition                                                               
to SB 58. She  said she is retired and fortunate  not to need the                                                               
program.  She   expressed  concern  that  repealing   the  senior                                                               
benefits program would cause Alaska's  vulnerable seniors to fall                                                               
further into poverty,  many of whom are women who  worked in low-                                                               
paying  jobs  or   left  employment  to  care   for  others.  She                                                               
questioned  whether  committee members  could  live  on $1,000  a                                                               
month,   especially   with   chronic  medical   conditions.   She                                                               
highlighted the  choices senior must  make each  month, including                                                               
whether  to  pay for  medicine,  rent,  heat, transportation,  or                                                               
She said it  is unconscionable to eliminate this  program and not                                                               
eliminate oil tax credits for  the wealthiest corporations in the                                                               
world. Little  or no  analysis was  done to  determine how  SB 58                                                               
will impact  those who need  the benefit,  she said. When  HB 60,                                                               
the companion  bill, was presented  in the House,  the presenters                                                               
said it  was easier to cut  this program than other  programs. In                                                               
closing, she  said that SB 58  hurts those who need  the benefits                                                               
and it is not good for Alaskans.                                                                                                
2:39:57 PM                                                                                                                    
WILLIAM  HARRINGTON,  representing   self,  Anchorage,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition to  SB 58.  He said he  is 70 years  old and  lived in                                                               
Alaska before the  pipeline was built. He  found it reprehensible                                                               
that a  government so rich  could be  so foolish in  its spending                                                               
and then remove the program  that allows Alaska's most vulnerable                                                               
seniors to  live healthy and  independently. He does  not qualify                                                               
for  this benefit  [since  it  is based  on  income],  but it  is                                                               
morally reprehensive to abandon the state's elderly population.                                                                 
2:40:58 PM                                                                                                                    
MARIANNE   BURKE,   representing   self,  Anchorage,   spoke   in                                                               
opposition to  SB 58. She  said her  family cared for  her father                                                               
who  received minimal  social security  benefits  and has  severe                                                               
dementia. The  $250 a  month helped them  provide him  with food,                                                               
medication, and clothes. Now that  he is in assisted care living,                                                               
the benefits provide  for his care. Medicaid  denied his benefits                                                               
for  a year  because  the program  had deemed  to  have too  many                                                               
assets, even  though the  assets had little  value. She  said the                                                               
senior benefits program helped cut through the issues.                                                                          
2:43:07 PM                                                                                                                    
GARY MCDONALD, representing self,  Anchorage, spoke in opposition                                                               
to SB 58. He  said he will turn 65 years old  next year. He asked                                                               
the committee  not to pick  on senior citizens. He  suggested the                                                               
legislature should  investigate fraud  in the food  stamp program                                                               
and leave  senior citizens alone.  He said he found  it appalling                                                               
that seniors had to call in to support the program.                                                                             
2:44:21 PM                                                                                                                    
HERMAN MORGAN,  representing self, Aniak, spoke  in opposition to                                                               
SB  58. He  said he  is 65  years old,  and that  eliminating the                                                               
senior  benefits  would hit  people  hard.  He expressed  concern                                                               
about the budget, and that money  should not be spent on programs                                                               
that  don't  work, but  the  senior  benefits program  works.  He                                                               
suggested  the  legislature  should   cut  the  education  budget                                                               
because Alaska's students  rank the lowest in the  nation and the                                                               
University  of  Alaska  Anchorage   lost  its  accreditation.  He                                                               
emphasized the high cost of  living in rural Alaska. For example,                                                               
in Aniak a  jar of mayonnaise costs $17.99. He  said that cutting                                                               
the permanent fund  and senior benefits is  irresponsible and can                                                               
force thousands  of people to  live below the poverty  people. He                                                               
urged members  to listen  to people who  are not  state employees                                                               
and need the money.                                                                                                             
2:47:17 PM                                                                                                                    
ELIZABETH MOE,  representing self,  Houston, spoke  in opposition                                                               
to  SB 58.  She expressed  concern  that the  legislature is  not                                                               
making the  right decisions.  Senior citizens  are knowledgeable,                                                               
and  the  state should  utilize  their  knowledge. She  said  the                                                               
legislature should  take the  oil tax credits  to pay  for social                                                               
services and  senior programs, but  not take money away  from the                                                               
people who built the state.                                                                                                     
2:50:05 PM                                                                                                                    
LARRY SLONE, representing self, Homer,  spoke in opposition to SB
58. He  suggested the legislature  should retain the  program but                                                               
make  serious  modifications.  He  argued  that  the  program  is                                                               
crucial for a decent quality of  life for some seniors who are on                                                               
the edge  of poverty. He  did not  think all the  recipients need                                                               
the senior benefit.  He and others like him who  own their homes,                                                               
have  savings  in the  bank,  and  health  care provided  by  the                                                               
Veterans' Administration  do not  need the program.  Although the                                                               
senior  benefit is  not  a  crucial need  for  him,  he is  still                                                               
afforded the  opportunity to  access it.  He surmised  that about                                                               
half  the  users needed  the  program  and  the other  half  were                                                               
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                                                               
senate.hss@akleg.gov. He closed public testimony on SB 58.                                                                      
2:52:19 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR GIESSEL thanked  all the seniors who called  in. She said                                                               
it  might be  helpful for  the testifiers  to know  that 4  of 20                                                               
senators in the Alaska State  Senate are seniors, and three serve                                                               
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 assured  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, she said.                                                                                                             
She  said   she  would  like   the  department  to   explain  the                                                               
ramifications  of  repealing  the senior  benefits  program.  She                                                               
expressed disappointment  that the  administration would  offer a                                                               
policy bill  without thoroughly investigating the  implication of                                                               
eliminating this  program and its  effect on other  programs. She                                                               
expressed interest in  the data, including how  many people would                                                               
lose other  benefits if  this program  was repealed.  She offered                                                               
her  belief that  if  SB  58 does  not  pass,  the program  would                                                               
continue   because  the   administration  would   need  statutory                                                               
authority to repeal the program.                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH  echoed the comments  of the Senate  president. He                                                               
remarked that he  was born in the state, but  his sister was born                                                               
in  the  territory.  As  he   listened  to  testimony  today,  he                                                               
understood that a cut could  have an impact on independent living                                                               
and the state could be faced  with greater costs if seniors could                                                               
no longer live independently. The  state has spent decades moving                                                               
its most  vulnerable populations  toward independent  living, not                                                               
only  because of  the dignity  involved, but  because it  is less                                                               
expensive for people to live in  their own homes than to become a                                                               
ward of the  state. The legislature should be  informed about the                                                               
impact before being asked to  make this policy decision. He asked                                                               
whether the  committee could  get that  information. He  said the                                                               
testifiers should  know that  this was not  a proposal  that came                                                               
from the  Alaska State  Senate. A number  of those  who testified                                                               
who said,  "You people are doing  this." This is a  proposal from                                                               
the governor that members are  considering in committee, he said.                                                               
He said  he hoped  that the committee  would deliberate  the bill                                                               
and make  the right  decision. He asked  Director O'Brien  if the                                                               
division  could provide  information  on the  effects  of SB  58,                                                               
including the impact of taking  people off independent living and                                                               
consequently placing  them on  greater public  assistance because                                                               
these  seniors cannot  live independently.  He acknowledged  that                                                               
the  division could  not provide  the committee  with the  social                                                               
costs, but the  division should be able to  quantify the monetary                                                               
MS. O'BRIEN answered that the  division would need to review some                                                               
detailed  case  information to  determine  what  might happen  to                                                               
people who  may not be  eligible for other programs.  She offered                                                               
to put together some scenarios  that will provide a more detailed                                                               
review of the impacts.                                                                                                          
2:57:42 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON commented  that when he was  18-years-old, he bought                                                               
a plane ticket to come to  Alaska because he knew where he wanted                                                               
to spend  his life. He  said he hoped this  will be his  home now                                                               
and forever.                                                                                                                    
[CHAIR WILSON held SB 58 in committee.]                                                                                         

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
PHSA Opposes SB 1 Dr Gina Bishop Comments.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
PHSA Opposes SB 1 Robert Honeycutt Comments.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
2019-04-01 - CON WH Testimony.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
SB 1 Ak Nurses Assoc - oppose.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
SB 1 Ak Radiology Opposition.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
SB 1 Ak Spine Clinic CON.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
M.1 SB 1 Amdmt 1 4.2.19.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 1
SB 58 Public Input 4.8.19.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Fiscal Note DHSS-SBPP 2.13.19.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Fiscal Note DHSS-PAFS 2.13.19.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Senior Benefit Program Fact Sheet 2019.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Senior Benefits Demographics by census area.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Senior Benefits Enrollment and Amounts by Benefit Tier December 2018.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Senior DHSS Service Array March 2019.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Sponsor Statement (Transmittal Letter).pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB058 Version A.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 58
SB58 HB60 Senior Benefits cut and elimination - letter.pdf SHSS 4/8/2019 1:30:00 PM
HB 60
SB 58