Dunleavy plans to eliminate cash assistance for low income old people

Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants to eliminate a cash assistance program for poor old people that every legislator supported last year except Rep. David Eastman, a leader of the “Just Say No” movement.

Dunleavy wants to save $20 million by getting rid of the cash benefits, which go to about one out of seven Alaskans age 65 and up.

There were 11,322 recipients as of December 2017, with 40 percent of them collecting $76 a month and 45 percent collecting $145 a month. The average age of recipients was 75.

An individual earning $26,565 or a married couple earning $36,015 a year can receive $76 a month.

The cash assistance payments are a descendant of the more costly Longevity Bonus program, which ended under former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

One of the Republican talking points about the benefits is that some people who collect them may have low incomes, but they have plenty of assets—homes, land, boats, stocks, IRAs, RVs, etc.

Supporters who testified about the value of the program had a much different view.

“I will be homeless without these payments,” Teresa Storch of Kodiak wrote legislators in 2017. “At 66 years of age, retired from almost 20 years of commercial fishing due to disabilities, this is a terrifying prospect for me!”

She said many others were in a similar situation.

Gina Creedon wrote that she was counting on this program as a replacement for other benefits that she will no qualify for. “I am terrified of the three years between my mandatory retirement and eligibility for the senior benefit, but I might make it.”

Eric Thomas, who worked with the homeless for Catholic Social Services in Anchorage, said the program helps keep some people out of homeless shelters.

Audrey Jones said many of the seniors she has met in Tok need the program to stay in their homes and eat healthy diets.

“i do not know what my life could be like without senior benefits,” said Tatyana Rogach.

“After working all my life, I now find myself in poverty,” said Katherine Hayes, 73, of Wasilla. She worked more than 53 years and saw her savings disappear through divorce and major medical bills.

“I live on my Social Security and without this wonderful program I do not know what I would do,” she said.

‘If you were like us, without your legislative retirement, you would appreciate our asking for this bit of grace when you retire,” said Andrew Sunnyboy.

“Surely it is much less costly to help us remain so independent than to incur high costs of public supported and/or assisted living homes?” asked Rose Potter, a recipient who said she needs the money to get by.

Wasilla residents John and Colleen Mielke said the program “means the difference between living with dignity and not being able to afford the necessities of life.”

The Dunleavy plan echoes comments of some GOP legislators who have called on cutting the program before.

“The difficult truth is that cash payments to senior citizens is not really an essential function of government,” said Rep. Dan Saddler a few years back. Saddler is now a PR man for the Dunleavy administration.

Dermot Cole7 Comments