SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Senior Benefits
by Rep. Mike Hawker



June 09, 2007

The legislature can resolve the status of state benefits for Alaska's seniors in a special session this month. We must rise above partisanship, consider all sides of the issue and do what is best for Alaska. Both the original Longevity Bonus and the current Senior Care program require new legislation to continue. Unless it is reauthorized, Senior Care will sunset June 30, 2007. The Department of Law has also determined that restarting the Longevity Bonus requires new enrollment authority.

Accordingly, the operating budget did not include either program and properly deferred funding to the fiscal note that would accompany new legislation extending either of the programs. Restarting the Longevity Bonus was estimated to cost approximately $34 million annually. The current Senior Care program costs less than $10 million.

Reopening Longevity would benefit approximately 13,000 persons over 65, regardless of financial need, who have previously participated in the program. No new enrollees would be permitted. Less than 3,000 of the beneficiaries would be low-income Alaskans who were participating in the Senior Care program.

Legal counsel advises that reopening enrollment for the Longevity Bonus exposes the state to another lawsuit requiring benefits for all persons over 65, regardless of income. Not just those previously enrolled. If a lawsuit prevailed, the cost would be in excess of $75 million per year and grow rapidly.

Senior Care is a needs-based program providing cash assistance and prescription drug benefits. Senior Care pays $120 per month to qualifying Alaskans with annual incomes less than 135% of the federal poverty guideline. There are approximately 6,600 participants receiving cash assistance. Additionally, there are approximately 150 persons participating in the drug benefit.

As Chairman of the House Budget Subcommittee for the Department of Health and Social Services, I introduced HB198 creating a new Alaska Senior Benefits Program replacing both the Longevity Bonus and Senior Care programs. The new program makes cash assistance payments available to all low-income seniors. Monthly cash payments of $250, $175 or $125 will be made depending upon income level. Approximately 11,000 low-income seniors are expected to benefit.

We also need to remove the name of the "Senior Care" from state programs as that name conflicts with a registered corporation, Senior Care of Alaska, Inc.

HB 198 was a carefully crafted compromise among legislators and senior advocacy groups. The crux of the compromise was that the benefits, which are more generous than some legislators wanted, would be supported as long as the new benefits replaced both the Longevity and Senior Care programs. This compromise was breeched when a floor amendment passed and retained the Longevity program, even though it was not funded. Keeping commitments made in the compromise negotiations, HB198 was taken off the floor.

After the House compromise failed, the Senate passed a similar bill that had been following HB198 through the process, copying most of its provisions. The Senate bill provided less generous benefits, kept the Longevity Bonus in statute and did not change the "Senior Care" name.

As session end approached, I continued working with concerned House members, but was unsuccessful resurrecting the failed compromise. On the last day of session, a motion was made to bring the Senate bill to the floor without a public hearing. All the House had time to do was concur without amendment. That limitation prevented needed changes and precipitated the failure of the motion for various reasons including:

  • The Senior Care name had not been removed from the program
  • The benefits to seniors were less than the House version
  • The new program did not replace the Longevity Bonus, putting two expensive programs into law at the same time


The regular session concluded on schedule and other critical matters, including the gas pipeline, budgets, school funding, revenue sharing and retirement system liabilities have been addressed for this year. It is now time to for the legislature to assemble for a short special session to resolve the three outstanding issues with the Alaska Senior Benefits Program and deliver this essential assistance to all of Alaska's low income seniors.



About: Representative Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, is Chairman of the House Special Committee on Ways and Means and a member of the House Finance Committee chairing the Budget Subcommittee for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Received June 08, 2007 - Published June 09, 2007


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