By Dave Donaldson
The House today approved a program that helps low-income senior citizens with a small monthly benefit to encourage them to stay in the state. The Senior Benefits Program provides up to $250 per month to about ten thousand people and starts with lower payments to those who receive less than 175-percent of the federally-set poverty level. Their average age is seventy five – and the oldest recipient is 105-years old.
Originally passed in 2007 — and set to expire in June without the extension – the program costs about $20-million per year and is fully funded in the budget the governor prepared for next year.
In explaining the program to the Finance Committee this morning, Sponsor Mike Hawker said the program is not seen as an “entitlement” – meaning it can be eliminated if necessary.
The seniors, the citizens of Alaska, do recognize that we are able to do this as long as we have the fiscal means. And when fiscal means become more constrain, we will have to set priorities. However, considering Alaska’s current projected circumstances, I sincerely believe the Seniors Benefit program merits being extended for the next four years.
Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze points out that the Parnell administration recognizes the potential growth of the program as the general population ages and has added a supplemental appropriation to cover its growth this year.
We’re not looking at reductions as the potential scenarios addressed, to sway fears as this bill is starting here with the support of the administration.
The bill – the first in this year’s session — passed the committee and on the floor with no dissention. The Senate has already scheduled a hearing on its own version of the measure on Wednesday.