Dunleavy now claims he's listening to Alaskans, reverses senior benefits veto

On June 28, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed the monthly checks that go to more than 11,000 senior citizens, arguing that the poorest old people in Alaska should not be so dependent on state largesse.

People getting the largest benefit, $250 a month, must have an income of less than $950 a month.

“With the state facing the challenge of aligning current state revenues with state expenditures, this program is being eliminated to contain costs and reduce dependence of individuals on state funds,” Dunleavy’s office announced.

“Repealing the senior benefits payment program will reduce the administrative and financial burden on state resources,” the public assistance division claimed.

In his effort to kill the $20 million program, Dunleavy suggested in February that there are rich people with low incomes who are among those taking advantage of the state. “There is no asset test to determine eligibility,” Dunleavy told legislators in a letter Feb. 12.

He and TBD Donna Arduin never wavered from that position until now. And as with all other aspects of his budget, Dunleavy and Arduin provided no analysis of how ending the program would harm those who depend upon it.

Now, in the first sign that the recall campaign is having at least a small impact, Dunleavy has flipped on this veto.

He said Monday that the “fantastic feedback” he’s received about killing the program led him to change his mind and keep it alive.

That is a fantastic reason to continue the recall campaign, the most powerful feedback the governor has received.

For the last six months, Dunleavy refused to listen to Alaskans opposed to his plan to end senior benefits or to the bipartisan majorities in the Legislature that voted to preserve it. A year ago, every legislator except one voted to support the program.

On April 4, Dunleavy didn’t listen when 31 Alaskans testified in opposition to his bill at a legislative hearing. It was not unanimous, as there was one person who spoke in favor of it. There were 25 people who spoke against it at a Senate hearing.

From February until the veto in June, Dunleavy and his staff kept saying the program needed to be eliminated.

In April, Dunleavy suspended the program and blamed the 2018 Legislature for the shortfall, though an easy fix was at hand.

At the April 4 hearing, the director of the public assistance division was asked why Dunleavy wanted to end the program. Health commissioner Adam Crum, who should have been the one to answer the question, was not in attendance.

There has never been a clear answer from Dunleavy on why he insisted on ending the program, except the claim that the state could not afford the $20 million, a position the governor has now abandoned.

"The administration is in a tough position for having to find places where we have general fund spending that can be eliminated without a lot of regulation or other things,” Shawnda O’Brien, director of public assistance, said April 4. “This is an entirely general fund-funded program, and so there aren't a lot of places within . . . our budget that have programs that are funded 100 percent with general funds, and so to find areas that can be eliminated - this was one of those areas.”

One difference now is that the governor claims he is listening. We’ll see about the rest of his vetoes, most of which he is promising to maintain.


Dermot Cole10 Comments