Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

01/20/2022 01:30 PM Senate HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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Audio Topic
01:30:18 PM Start
01:31:25 PM HB168
02:44:47 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
*+ HB 168 ELECTRONIC APPLICATION FOR STATE BENEFITS TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
-- Invited & Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
      SENATE HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                    
                        January 20, 2022                                                                                        
                           1:30 p.m.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator David Wilson, Chair                                                                                                     
Senator Shelley Hughes, Vice Chair                                                                                              
Senator Mia Costello                                                                                                            
Senator Lora Reinbold                                                                                                           
Senator Tom Begich                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
All members present                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
HOUSE BILL NO. 168                                                                                                              
"An Act requiring the Department of Health and Social Services                                                                  
to provide and allow submission of an electronic application for                                                                
certain state benefits; and providing for an effective date."                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BILL: HB 168                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: ELECTRONIC APPLICATION FOR STATE BENEFITS                                                                          
SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) SNYDER                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
04/09/21       (H)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
04/09/21       (H)       HSS, FIN                                                                                               
04/13/21       (H)       HSS AT 3:00 PM DAVIS 106                                                                               
04/13/21       (H)       Heard & Held                                                                                           
04/13/21       (H)       MINUTE(HSS)                                                                                            
04/15/21       (H)       HSS AT 3:00 PM DAVIS 106                                                                               
04/15/21       (H)       Moved HB 168 Out of Committee                                                                          
04/15/21       (H)       MINUTE(HSS)                                                                                            
04/16/21       (H)       HSS RPT 5DP 1DNP 1NR                                                                                   
04/16/21       (H)       DP: FIELDS, SPOHNHOLZ, MCCARTY, SNYDER,                                                                
                         ZULKOSKY                                                                                               
04/16/21       (H)       DNP: PRAX                                                                                              
04/16/21       (H)       NR: KURKA                                                                                              
04/16/21       (H)       FIN REFERRAL REMOVED                                                                                   
04/16/21       (H)       BILL REPRINTED                                                                                         
04/28/21       (H)       TRANSMITTED TO (S)                                                                                     
04/28/21       (H)       VERSION: HB 168                                                                                        
04/30/21       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
04/30/21       (S)       HSS, FIN                                                                                               
01/20/22       (S)       HSS AT 1:30 PM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LIZ SNYDER                                                                                                       
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Sponsor of HB 168.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
ARIELLE WIGGIN, Staff                                                                                                           
Representative Liz Snyder                                                                                                       
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented the sectional analysis for HB 168.                                                              
                                                                                                                                
RON MEEHAN, Policy and Advocacy Manager                                                                                         
Food Bank of Alaska                                                                                                             
Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                                               
POSITION STATEMENT: Provided invited testimony on HB 168.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SHAWNDA O'BRIEN, Director                                                                                                       
Division of Public Assistance                                                                                                   
Department of Health and Social Services                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Answered questions on HB 168 on behalf of                                                                 
the division.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                              
1:30:18 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 Begich,  Costello, Reinbold, Hughes,                                                               
and Chair Wilson.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
        HB 168-ELECTRONIC APPLICATION FOR STATE BENEFITS                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
1:31:25 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  announced the consideration  of HOUSE BILL  NO. 168                                                               
"An Act  requiring the Department  of Health and  Social Services                                                               
to provide and allow submission  of an electronic application for                                                               
certain state benefits; and providing for an effective date."                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:31:52 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE LIZ SNYDER, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau,                                                                    
Alaska, paraphrased the sponsor statement for HB 168.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
[Original punctuation provided]                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     House  Bill   168  will  modernize   public  assistance                                                                    
     applications by  creating an  option for  recipients to                                                                    
     apply and re-apply for benefits electronically.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     The   COVID-19   pandemic   caused   an   increase   in                                                                    
     applications   for  public   assistance  programs   and                                                                    
     highlighted the  need for  administrative efficiencies.                                                                    
     In 2020,  SNAP application processing  backlogs cleared                                                                    
     up  due  to  COVID-19 related  application  requirement                                                                    
     waivers,  but  the  significant  administrative  burden                                                                    
     will return when those waivers lapse.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     Currently, Alaska is  one of the last  states without a                                                                    
     fully   electronic  application   for  SNAP   benefits.                                                                    
     Applicants can fill  out a form online,  but still need                                                                    
     to print, sign, and either  send it through the mail or                                                                    
     physically  deliver  to  a  department  location.  This                                                                    
     creates  a  high  administrative burden  for  both  the                                                                    
     applicant  and the  Division  of  Public Assistance.  A                                                                    
     fully  electronic  application   option  will  increase                                                                    
     administrative  efficiencies,  reduce any  current  and                                                                    
     future  application  backlogs, and  improve  processing                                                                    
     times.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     The Department of Health &  Social Services has started                                                                    
     working  on  introducing  online applications.  HB  168                                                                    
     sets  the  stage  for  regulation,  appropriation,  and                                                                    
     implementation  of   these  processes.  It   ensures  a                                                                    
     reasonable timeline  for implementation and  that, once                                                                    
     available,   online   applications   will   always   be                                                                    
     available.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Many  Alaskans benefit  from the  services provided  by                                                                    
     the  Division of  Public Assistance.  The statutes  and                                                                    
     regulations  that guide  our responses  must keep  pace                                                                    
     with  the  needs  of  our   communities.  HB  168  will                                                                    
       increase accessibility to important resources for                                                                        
         families in need, and I urge you to join me in                                                                         
     supporting this bill.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:32:32 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER emphasized that HB  168 does not remove any                                                               
existing mechanism or opportunities  for individuals to apply for                                                               
public assistance.  It simply adds  an online option.  She stated                                                               
that the  application must be filled  out and printed. It  can be                                                               
mailed  in, faxed,  scanned, photographed  and emailed,  or hand-                                                               
delivered to  one of  the Division  of Public  Assistance offices                                                               
listed on the form.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER listed the programs  for which HB 168 would                                                               
authorize online electronic  applications, including Medicaid for                                                               
Chronic   and   Acute   Medical  Assistance,   the   Supplemental                                                               
Assistance  Program  (SNAP),   Adult  Public  Assistance,  Senior                                                               
Benefits Program,  Heating Assistance, Women, Infants  & Children                                                               
(WIC),  and Commodities  Supplemental  Food  Program for  seniors                                                               
over 60. It would allow for online renewals and recertification.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SNYDER stated  that  Alaska is  one  of the  only                                                               
states  that  has not  modernized  the  process of  applying  for                                                               
public  assistance. She  explained  that  the division  currently                                                               
requires a wet  signature. HB 168 would make  using an electronic                                                               
signature an option.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SNYDER  explained   that  some  applications  are                                                               
lengthy and  complex, so having  an online form would  save costs                                                               
by reducing  administrative time  and delays. She  worked closely                                                               
with  the Department  of  Health and  Social  Services (DHSS)  in                                                               
developing this  bill. It supports DHSS's  modernization efforts.                                                               
Authorizing  online  electronic  applications  in  statute  would                                                               
allow   the   department    to   implement   processes,   develop                                                               
regulations, accept appropriations, and ensure a timeline.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
1:35:08 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER  said that  the governor's  FY 2022  and FY                                                               
2023 budgets  already account  for the  anticipated efficiencies.                                                               
She  stated that  members  may recall  the  FY 2022  discussions,                                                               
including a  $3.4 million Unrestricted  General Fund  (UGF) match                                                               
was  cut,  along  with  101   public  assistance  positions.  The                                                               
Governor's  FY  2023  budget   eliminated  those  positions.  The                                                               
Governor's  FY 2022  budget eliminated  $848,000 in  UGF matching                                                               
funds in anticipation of postage,  printing, and envelopes due to                                                               
online  submission  forms.  The  FY  2023  budget  eliminates  an                                                               
additional $215,000  related to  unneeded technology for  the 101                                                               
eliminated  positions. She  emphasized the  importance of  moving                                                               
the  process  forward  since  the  department  counts  on  having                                                               
functioning online forms.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:36:24 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   SNYDER,  in   closing,  stated   that  providing                                                               
statutory  language  will  be helpful  to  ensure  that  eligible                                                               
Alaskans have access to the services  that get them back on their                                                               
feet.  It is  important  that the  state  achieves and  maintains                                                               
these planned efficiencies.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  WILSON  asked the  sponsor's  staff  to proceed  with  the                                                               
sectional analysis.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
1:36:59 PM                                                                                                                    
ARIELLE WIGGIN,  Staff, Representative  Liz Snyder,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature, Juneau,  Alaska, read the sectional  analysis for HB
168.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
[Original punctuation provided]:                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Sec.  1: Adds  a new  subsection (19)  to AS  47.05.010                                                                    
     Duties  of  Department   requiring  the  Department  of                                                                    
     Health  and Social  Services to  create and  provide an                                                                    
     entirely  online  application process  for  individuals                                                                    
     applying for  public assistance  and defines  an online                                                                    
     application.  It  does  not  mandate  applicants  apply                                                                    
     online or remove the written option.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:37:20 PM                                                                                                                    
     Sec. 2:  Amends AS 47.08.150(b) Assistance  For Chronic                                                                    
     or   Acute  Medical   Conditions  by   adding  language                                                                    
     requiring the Department of  Health and Social Services                                                                    
     to  establish an  entirely  online application  process                                                                    
     for  individuals applying  for  the  Chronic and  Acute                                                                    
     Medical Assistance program.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 3:  Adds a new  subsection (6) to  AS 47.25.001(a)                                                                    
     Powers   and  Duties   that  requires   the  department                                                                    
     establish  an entirely  online application  process and                                                                    
     allows  applicants to  apply in  any  form required  by                                                                    
     state and federal law.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     Sec.  4: Adds  a  new section  (7)  to AS  47.25.071(e)                                                                    
     Child Care  Grant Program that requires  the department                                                                    
     establish  an entirely  online application  process for                                                                    
     assistance under the Child Care Grant Program.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
1:38:04 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. WIGGIN continued reading the sectional analysis for HB
168.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
[Original punctuation provided]                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 5:  Amends AS  47.25.095 Definitions For  Day Care                                                                    
     Assistance  and Child  Care  Grant  Programs to  define                                                                    
     electronic application.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 6: Amends AS  47.25.150 Application For Assistance                                                                    
     by adding  language requiring the Department  of Public                                                                    
     Assistance to establish  an entirely online application                                                                    
     process  for individuals  applying for  assistance from                                                                    
     the department and defines an online application.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 7: Amends AS  47.25.440 Application For Assistance                                                                    
     by adding  language requiring the Department  of Health                                                                    
     and  Social Services  to establish  an entirely  online                                                                    
     application   process  for   individuals  applying   to                                                                    
     receive Adult  Public Assistance and defines  an online                                                                    
     application.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
1:38:47 PM                                                                                                                    
     Sec.  8: Adds  a  new subsection  (4)  to AS  47.25.622                                                                    
     Alaska   Affordable  Heating   Program  requiring   the                                                                    
     Department of Health and Social  Services to create and                                                                    
     provide  an  entirely  online application  process  for                                                                    
     individuals applying for  the Alaska Affordable Heating                                                                    
     Program and defines an online application.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 9:  Adds a new  subsection (4) to  AS 47.25.980(a)                                                                    
     Duties  of  Department   requiring  the  Department  of                                                                    
     Public  Assistance to  create and  provide an  entirely                                                                    
     online  application  process for  individuals  applying                                                                    
     for the  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance  Program and                                                                    
     defines an online application.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     Sec.   10:    Amends   AS    47.27.020(a)   Application                                                                    
     Requirements   by   adding   language   requiring   the                                                                    
     Department  of   Public  Assistance  to   establish  an                                                                    
     entirely  online  application process  for  individuals                                                                    
     applying for  the Alaska Temporary  Assistance Program.                                                                    
     Defines online application.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Sec.  11:   Amends  AS  47.45.302(a)   Cash  Assistance                                                                    
     Benefits  by adding  language requiring  the Department                                                                    
     of Health and Social  Services to establish an entirely                                                                    
     online  application  process for  individuals  applying                                                                    
     for  the   cash  assistance  program.   Defines  online                                                                    
     application.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 12:  Adds a new  section to the uncodified  law of                                                                    
     the State  of Alaska allowing the  Department of Health                                                                    
     and  Social Services  to  adopt  regulations needed  to                                                                    
     create and implement online applications.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     Sec.   13:  Requires   Section   12   to  take   effect                                                                    
     immediately under AS 01.10.070(c).                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     Sec. 14: Provides an effective date of July 1, 2022.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:40:24 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD asked for the  total number of people the online                                                               
application would affect.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER  deferred the  question to the  director of                                                               
the Division of Public Assistance.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:40:56 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  said he  anticipated that  the director  would join                                                               
the meeting shortly.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:41:10 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD  recalled HB 168  would allow for the  option to                                                               
apply  online, but  the sponsor  said the  department is  already                                                               
doing so. She said she was a little confused.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:41:21 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER  responded that  the department  was adding                                                               
the   option.  She   related   her   understanding  that   online                                                               
applications  are  permitted  but  not  required.  HB  168  would                                                               
require an option for online application submittals.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:42:04 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD  expressed concern with potential  data breaches                                                               
by allowing for online applications.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:42:31 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  advised  members  that  the  state  has  already                                                               
budgeted  for  DHSS's  implementation  of  an  electronic  online                                                               
application   system.  This   ensures  that   the  state   cannot                                                               
backslide. He related his understanding  that the state could end                                                               
up  where  the  DHSS  cannot  process  applications  because  the                                                               
positions were already removed.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
1:43:20 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER responded  that it was a  fair concern. She                                                               
said  the  division's  budget was  significantly  cut  in  direct                                                               
anticipation of  the availability of the  electronic application.                                                               
She  elaborated  that the  2015  Division  of Legislative  Audit,                                                               
Performance  Review  of  the  Department  of  Health  and  Social                                                               
Services  noted that  the backlog  was  five to  six months.  She                                                               
understood that this  backlog grew at the onset  of the pandemic.                                                               
She suggested  that the director  could provide  those specifics.                                                               
In 2020,  the division  hired approximately  20 people  to handle                                                               
the backlog.  Although the  division reduced  the backlog  to 3-5                                                               
days,  it  could find  itself  with  a significant  backlog  once                                                               
again.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
1:44:15 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  said he shared  Senator Reinbold's  concern about                                                               
data breaches  and would like  to discuss them once  the division                                                               
director was online. The sectional  analysis referred to entirely                                                               
online applications.  He asked for  clarification that  she meant                                                               
that all DPA programs would allow  for an online process, but the                                                               
division would still allow for paper applications.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SNYDER agreed.  She said  "entirely" referred  to                                                               
the  applicant's  ability to  press  "submit,"  and the  person's                                                               
electronic  signature would  be attached  to the  application and                                                               
submitted  online.   The  form  is  currently   online,  but  the                                                               
applicant cannot submit it online.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:45:18 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH asked  for  clarification  that "entirely"  means                                                               
applicants can  fill out and  sign their application  online just                                                               
as  Alaskans  sign  their  permanent  fund  dividend  application                                                               
online.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
1:45:44 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER responded that is correct.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
1:45:52 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES  echoed  the same  cybersecurity  concerns  about                                                               
breaches  because applicants  disclose personal  information. She                                                               
asked  how many  positions the  division needed  if it  only used                                                               
paper  applications. She  said she  would like  to determine  the                                                               
actual cost savings in positions and dollars.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
1:47:18 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER reported  that 44 of the  101 positions cut                                                               
in the  Governor's FY 2023  budget were  vacant for at  least six                                                               
months. The  department filled an  additional 56 positions  for a                                                               
short time. The division functioned without them.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
1:48:23 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES pointed  out that she did not  see Medicaid listed                                                               
as one of the programs.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER  answered that  one component  of Medicaid,                                                               
the Chronic and  Acute Medical Assistance (CAMA), is  part of the                                                               
multi-application online form.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HUGHES offered her understanding  that Medicaid is not an                                                               
online process.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER answered that is correct.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
1:49:16 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON turned to invited testimony.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:49:42 PM                                                                                                                    
RON MEEHAN,  Policy and  Advocacy Manager,  Food Bank  of Alaska,                                                               
Anchorage, Alaska,  spoke in  support of HB  168. He  stated that                                                               
the   Food  Bank   of  Alaska   has  a   robust  federally-funded                                                               
Supplemental Nutrition  Assistance Program (SNAP) carried  out in                                                               
partnership  with the  state. The  food bank  provides education,                                                               
outreach,  application assistance,  and  critical status  updates                                                               
for current and  potential SNAP recipients. Nearly  25 percent of                                                               
Alaskans eligible for SNAP do not access the program.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. MEEHAN  said Alaskans face significant  and unique challenges                                                               
in accessing benefits. One major barrier  is a lack of options to                                                               
apply, which the creation and  addition of an online program will                                                               
reduce. Alaska  currently uses a paper  application that requires                                                               
a pen-to-paper "wet" signature for  SNAP and many other programs.                                                               
Although  there is  an online  submission option,  it requires  a                                                               
person to use a finger or  stylus signature not available to many                                                               
applicants.  Not  all  communities  have  a  Division  of  Public                                                               
Assistance (DPA) office and due  to COVID-19, offices are closed.                                                               
Thus,  it can  be challenging  for applicants  to obtain  a paper                                                               
application.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. MEEHAN explained  that some clients don't have  access to the                                                               
PDF  application  online, some  don't  have  printing or  mailing                                                               
capabilities,   and   some   need  help   walking   through   and                                                               
understanding the questions on the  28-page application. The Food                                                               
Bank's  SNAP Outreach  team helps  people via  the phone,  asking                                                               
questions and  filling out the  application for them.  If clients                                                               
don't have  printing capabilities,  which many  do not,  the food                                                               
bank's  staff  mails the  application  to  them with  a  pre-paid                                                               
return envelope.  The client can  review, sign and mail  back the                                                               
application. This process can take  weeks for rural residents who                                                               
often do not ultimately submit their applications.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:51:45 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. MEEHAN stated  that some clients have access  to the internet                                                               
and could  self-submit their forms online,  with phone assistance                                                               
from  staff, which  saves  mail time  and  postage. Further,  the                                                               
outreach team  could assist the  application process  for clients                                                               
needing multiple  benefits since they can  identify the necessary                                                               
forms,  simplifying a  daunting  process.  An online  application                                                               
could be designed  to be predictive, requiring  clients to answer                                                               
relevant   questions   and   provide  explanations   as   needed.                                                               
Streamlining  the application  process could  create efficiencies                                                               
in  DPA's processing  and the  food bank's  outreach efforts.  An                                                               
online  SNAP application  process  would eliminate  the need  for                                                               
printing  thousands of  applications every  year. An  online SNAP                                                               
application  would   allow  applicants  to  reach   the  service,                                                               
complete the application  at their own pace  and receive benefits                                                               
timely.  It  is one  of  the  surest  ways  to ensure  access  to                                                               
benefits in a state as unique and diverse as Alaska.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
1:53:12 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON  thanked  Mr.  Meehan  for  the  services  that  he                                                               
provides to Alaskans.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
1:53:25 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON opened public testimony  on HB 168; finding none; he                                                               
closed  public  testimony. He  stated  that  the committee  would                                                               
accept written testimony at  shss@akleg.gov until Monday, January                                                               
24 at 5:00 p.m.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
1:53:58 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:02:04 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON reconvened the meeting.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:02:26 PM                                                                                                                    
SHAWNDA  O'BRIEN,  Director,  Department  of  Health  and  Social                                                               
Services,   Division  of   Public  Assistance,   Juneau,  Alaska,                                                               
introduced herself.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
2:02:46 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD  asked how many  Alaskans receive  benefits that                                                               
would be affected by HB 168.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS.  O'BRIEN  answered  that  approximately  275,000  to  300,000                                                               
Alaskans receive public assistance benefits.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:03:24 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  REINBOLD asked  for the  purpose of  the bill  since the                                                               
department was already putting its applications online.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS.   O'BRIEN  answered   that  the   department  was   currently                                                               
developing  online electronic  applications. The  department does                                                               
not need statutory  authority to continue doing  so. She deferred                                                               
to the bill sponsor to respond.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
2:04:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON related  his understanding  that this  bill changes                                                               
the "may" to a "shall."                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER agreed that  the statutory changes were not                                                               
needed to make the online  application possible. However, placing                                                               
it in statute ensures that  electronic, online applications would                                                               
always remain  an option.  Electronic applications  modernize the                                                               
department's process by improving services and efficiencies.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:04:57 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD said  she had planned to amend the  bill on page                                                               
1, line 7 to change "shall"  to "may" to ensure data privacy. She                                                               
referred to the language in  paragraph (3) "minimum standards for                                                               
personnel  employed   by  the  department  and   adopt  necessary                                                               
regulations to  maintain those standards;". She  asked what types                                                               
of standards the department should put in place.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BEGICH  clarified  that  this language  is  an  existing                                                               
statute and is not being changed  by HB 168. Those provisions are                                                               
necessary for the  department to operate. He referred  to page 4,                                                               
lines  1-7,  for  the  new language  related  to  the  electronic                                                               
application process.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:06:02 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  REINBOLD said  that the  testimony given  conflicts with                                                               
changing  the  language from  "may"  to  "shall". She  asked  for                                                               
clarification.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
2:06:21 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON  referred  to  page  4,  paragraph  (19),  for  the                                                               
statutory change  that would require the  department to establish                                                               
an electronic  application process  for all  assistance programs.                                                               
He explained that [AS 47.05.010  paragraphs (1)-(18)] is existing                                                               
statutory language outlining the duties of the department.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:06:53 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN agreed that the only  change HB 168 made was to allow                                                               
applicants  to  submit  their   applications  through  an  online                                                               
electronic process.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
2:07:20 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH stated  that  the language  is  "may" because  it                                                               
currently doesn't  exist in statute.  Applicants could  choose to                                                               
submit their applications online or choose not to do so.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
2:07:36 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:08:37 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON reconvened the meeting.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:08:44 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD  expressed concern  if the statute  read "shall"                                                               
that  the  division  would  be  forced  to  keep  the  electronic                                                               
application online if a data breach occurred.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
2:09:21 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SNYDER  acknowledged  and  agreed  that  Alaska's                                                               
privacy  concerns are  of the  most importance.  She deferred  to                                                               
Legislative  Legal Services  to  respond to  the  effects of  the                                                               
[September 16, 2021, DHSS] data breach.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:10:07 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON asked if the  data breach caused any temporary halts                                                               
to programs and any consequences for the department.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:10:29 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  O'BRIEN   answered  that   the  division   experienced  some                                                               
disruptions. The  childcare assistance  and licensing  system was                                                               
completely  disrupted and  wholly  taken  offline. Other  systems                                                               
were partially affected if they  were housed on a server affected                                                               
by  the  cyberattack.  The  division   accepts  paper  forms  and                                                               
documents but  using a  manual rather  than an  automated process                                                               
takes more  time. She said  this results in work  backlogs, which                                                               
happened with  the Child  Care Program  and the  Alaska Temporary                                                               
Assistance Program  (ATAP) work service program.  The cyberattack                                                               
affected  the  division   primarily  through  inefficiencies  and                                                               
backlogs.  She highlighted  that any  automated or  online system                                                               
requires  an  option for  people  to  submit paper  applications,                                                               
which  the  division  would  continue   to  offer.  The  division                                                               
receives applications  by fax,  email, photographed  and emailed,                                                               
or by the online application process currently being developed.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
2:13:36 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES asked if anything  requires the department to shut                                                               
down  its online  application process  if it  suffers a  security                                                               
breach.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:14:22 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN  answered that  the state and  DPA have  protocols in                                                               
place if a  breach or infiltration occurs. For  example, during a                                                               
cyberattack  the  division would  take  the  affected servers  or                                                               
network connections  offline. The  division would  assess whether                                                               
any  data was  infiltrated or  accessed, and  it would  revert to                                                               
solely using paper applications as  a backup to allow Alaskans to                                                               
apply for services. Some protocols  were related to continuity of                                                               
services,  and others  were federal  requirements imposed  on the                                                               
department.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:15:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES  stated that internal protocols  could change. She                                                               
acknowledged  that  current  protocols  might be  based  on  best                                                               
practices. However, the Alaska  Constitution provides for privacy                                                               
protections. She said she supports  the department moving towards                                                               
electronic   application   processes   for   cost   savings   and                                                               
efficiencies.  She  acknowledged  the  committee  would  want  to                                                               
discuss  the  statutory  language  with  Legislative  Legal.  She                                                               
suggested that protocols should  require the department to revert                                                               
to paper applications until it was safe to go online.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:17:26 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON  suggested   those  cybersecurity  protocols  might                                                               
already be in place. For  example, the commissioner might be able                                                               
to waive statutory requirements.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:17:49 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COSTELLO highlighted that  cybersecurity is critical. She                                                               
remarked  that the  Senate State  Affairs Committee  will hear  a                                                               
presentation on  cybersecurity today,  which members may  want to                                                               
attend.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:18:21 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  referred to  Sections 10  and 12,  which provided                                                               
regulatory  transition language.  She asked  if the  department's                                                               
regulations would establish any protocols.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:18:49 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN  explained that she  is not  an expert on  the Health                                                               
Insurance Portability and Accountability  Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and                                                               
confidentially   requirements,  so   she  would   defer  to   the                                                               
Department Security  Office. Still,  the division must  adhere to                                                               
confidentiality  requirements associated  with federal  oversight                                                               
purposes and not  look to the electronic  application language to                                                               
satisfy those requirements.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:20:12 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  recalled that  the Administrative  Procedures Act                                                               
refers to  the federal  laws and protections.  He asked  if HIPAA                                                               
would be referred to in the regulatory processes.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
2:20:40 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN answered that he was correct.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BEGICH   related  his   understanding  that   there  are                                                               
protections in the federal laws  that require the state to adhere                                                               
to specific  confidentiality and privacy guidelines.  He said the                                                               
broader  questions Senators  Hughes and  Reinbold asked  directly                                                               
related to  DHSS's data  breach. This  act states  that consumers                                                               
could use electronic submittal of  data as an option. He wondered                                                               
what  protections DPA  has  in  response to  the  data breach  to                                                               
assure Alaskans  that this  isn't doing  anything to  expand data                                                               
risk.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:22:09 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  O'BRIEN  deferred to  the  DHSS  Department Security  Office                                                               
(DSO) or the Department of  Administration, Office of Information                                                               
Technology, State Security Office for specific details.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:22:36 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  suggested that  the  committee  could request  a                                                               
presentation  on  data  breaches  from  the  Department  Security                                                               
Office.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH  stated that Alaska  has an  indigenous population                                                               
whose  first  language  may  not  be English.  He  asked  if  the                                                               
division works  with public interest  groups to identify  ways to                                                               
ensure  that   the  forms  are   accessible  online   in  various                                                               
languages.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:23:50 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. O'BRIEN answered that the  division contracts for interpreter                                                               
services    through     LanguageLine.    LanguageLine    provides                                                               
interpretation  for over  200 languages  to  assist clients  with                                                               
online or  paper applications. The  division has  limited options                                                               
to  offer  all  languages  in  written  form,  but  it  works  to                                                               
communicate with individuals on how to obtain those services.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
2:25:00 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH   asked  if  the  division   assists  those  with                                                               
disabilities.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. O'BRIEN  answered yes.  The division  understands this  is an                                                               
area  that the  department  could continually  improve. She  said                                                               
that electronic options offer variety and alternative solutions.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:25:41 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH pointed  out that not all Alaskans  have access to                                                               
high-speed  internet.  He asked  if  the  division would  provide                                                               
paper applications for those with low bandwidth.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS.  O'BRIEN answered  that the  paper process  is currently  one                                                               
option for those  with low bandwidth. She reported  that with the                                                               
implementation of the Virtual Contact  Center, the division could                                                               
accept   applications  via   the  phone,   including  authorizing                                                               
applicants  to use  electronic  signatures.  The application  via                                                               
phone  will  still  be  an  option  once  the  online  electronic                                                               
application  process  is in  place.  She  characterized it  as  a                                                               
positive solution.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
2:27:14 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  remarked if  he were the  governor and  asked the                                                               
director to stop using the electronic forms if she would do so.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MS. O'BRIEN answered that she would have to honor the request.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH stated that is why  HB 168 should place "shall" in                                                               
statute, so long as the data is protected.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR REINBOLD  said she supports privacy  protections provided                                                               
in Article I,  Section 22 of the Alaska  Constitution. She opined                                                               
that  the  legislature was  failing  to  meet its  constitutional                                                               
obligations to do so. She  expressed concern that if the language                                                               
reads  "shall," it  could  create liability  if  the power  shuts                                                               
down. She said  she was glad the legislature  was getting briefed                                                               
on  cybersecurity because  of the  significant DHSS  data breach.                                                               
She  stated that  the committee  shared concerns  about potential                                                               
cyberattacks and the importance  of protecting Alaskan's personal                                                               
information.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:30:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  WILSON asked  if DPA  has the  means to  detect fraud  and                                                               
verify the individual if the application is not signed.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:30:48 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.   O'BRIEN  responded   that   the   division  uses   standard                                                               
authentication  requirements. The  online electronic  application                                                               
process  will  use multiple  steps  to  validate and  verify  the                                                               
identity of  recipients. The  DPA has a  Fraud Control  Unit that                                                               
reviews recipients  through data mining. For  example, people can                                                               
submit their  Medicaid applications  using a myAlaska  account to                                                               
authenticate their  identity. Members  may have used  myAlaska to                                                               
apply for  their fishing license  or permanent fund  dividend and                                                               
may be familiar with the steps  embedded in that process. The DPA                                                               
hopes  to  use  similar  authentication  requirements  for  other                                                               
programs.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:32:16 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON pointed  out he could purchase  fishing licenses for                                                               
other individuals so  long as he has  their personal information.                                                               
He asked whether the person  receiving public assistance benefits                                                               
must apply or if another person could apply on their behalf.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:32:37 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  O'BRIEN answered  that  an  authorized representative  could                                                               
apply for  another person since  some people  require assistance.                                                               
She said  that the division would  use its Fraud Control  Unit to                                                               
detect fraud.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
2:34:23 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD said she was  astonished that people could apply                                                               
by  phone. She  stated that  [the Department  of Health  & Social                                                               
Services  and  Department  of Law  Joint  Legislative  Report  on                                                               
Fraud, Abuse,  and Waste required under  AS 47.07.076] identified                                                               
issues. She suggested adding language  to the bill to ensure that                                                               
the  state is  not  expanding  a broken  program.  She asked  the                                                               
sponsor to identify the goal.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SNYDER said she was  unsure she could rephrase the                                                               
goal of the bill in another way.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:35:40 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH asked what the  division currently does to protect                                                               
consumers from anyone purchasing their personal information.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:36:40 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  O'BRIEN  answered  that  the  data  and  security  protocols                                                               
require  the   division  to  follow  HIPAA   and  confidentiality                                                               
standards. A person's personal information  is protected from the                                                               
point that they sign into  their myAlaska account to submit their                                                               
Medicaid application  through multiple  layers and levels  by the                                                               
state's  security system.  She offered  to provide  the committee                                                               
with specific  citations to  ensure that  applicants' information                                                               
is secure  from third  parties and  the federal  regulations that                                                               
provide  oversight  on  how  the  agency  must  protect  personal                                                               
information.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:37:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  acknowledged that  he would like  the information                                                               
to  understand  the  consumer  protections.   He  asked  for  the                                                               
incidence of fraud for the 275,000 to 300,000 DPA recipients.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS.  O'BRIEN  answered that  the  department  produces an  annual                                                               
report that  outlines cases  of fraud that  she could  share with                                                               
the committee.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
2:38:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR REINBOLD  said she was  unaware of any  statutes imposing                                                               
penalties for  individuals committing fraud, just  for providers.                                                               
She expressed  concern that  people could  apply for  benefits in                                                               
Hawaii,  then  come  to  Alaska  and apply  for  them  here.  She                                                               
emphasized that  her concern  is over  a gargantuan  program that                                                               
the state needs to fix so the program will be sustainable.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:39:52 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  stated that  fraud is theft,  so the  Department of                                                               
Law could prosecute the individuals for theft of services.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:40:41 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  SNYDER emphasized  the  three primary  motivators                                                               
for  introducing HB  168. It  modernizes the  Division of  Public                                                               
Assistance process in statute to  ensure it is robust, resilient,                                                               
and cannot  be revoked on a  whim. In 2006, the  USDA recommended                                                               
an online electronic application  process to achieve efficiencies                                                               
and improve access to programs. Alaska  is one of the last states                                                               
to change. She offered to  research how other states have handled                                                               
some  of the  issues. Second,  HB  168 would  remove barriers  to                                                               
access. As  Mr. Meehan  from the Food  Bank of  Alaska testified,                                                               
only about 75  percent of eligible Alaskans  participate in their                                                               
programs. Some of  that limitation is due to  access. She pointed                                                               
out that sometimes  the back and forth between  the applicant and                                                               
the agency results in the  recipient quitting the process. Third,                                                               
the goal  is to  achieve improved efficiencies.  HB 168  can help                                                               
the state operate  the programs at lower costs  and redirect some                                                               
staff  time  and  resources to  the  important  concerns  raised,                                                               
including  fraud  and  security  issues.  The  2015  Division  of                                                               
Legislative  Audit,  Performance  Review  of  the  Department  of                                                               
Health  and Social  Services recognized  the  Division of  Public                                                               
Assistance  for its  efforts  to address  fraud.  She offered  to                                                               
research to  find answers to  the questions she could  not answer                                                               
today and report back to the committee.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:43:20 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON held HB 168 in committee.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
2:43:50 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH pointed  out that AS 47.05.210  refers to Medicaid                                                               
fraud  as   a  criminal   offense,  punishable   as  a   class  A                                                               
misdemeanor.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:43:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  REINBOLD  recalled  from   subcommittee  work  that  the                                                               
penalties were for providers.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR   BEGICH  responded   that   AS   47.05.210  applies   to                                                               
applicants.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR REINBOLD  said she  would research  this because  she did                                                               
not believe the  division was actively pursuing  fraud cases. She                                                               
said the audit identified it as a significant problem.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
2:44:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WILSON  recalled that  the report  related to  fraud, waste                                                               
and  abuse  that  will  come  out in  November  [required  by  AS                                                               
47.07.076].                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:44:47 PM                                                                                                                    
There being  no further  business to  come before  the committee,                                                               
Chair  Wilson adjourned  the Senate  Health  and Social  Services                                                               
Standing Committee meeting at 2:44 p.m.                                                                                         

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 168 32-LS0639 W.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168
HB 168 DHSS FN 1.14.2022.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168
HB 168 DHSS FN 4.14.2021.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168
HB 168 Letter of Support - Received 4.19.2021.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168
HB 168 Sectional Analysis Ver. W 4.12.2021.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168
HB 168 Sponsor Statement Version B 4.12.2021.pdf SHSS 1/20/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 168