Legislature(2017 - 2018)HOUSE FINANCE 519

02/07/2018 01:30 PM House FINANCE

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Delayed to a Call of the Chair --
Moved CSHB 236(FIN) Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
Moved CSHB 215(FIN) Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
HOUSE BILL NO. 236                                                                                                            
     "An Act  extending the  Alaska senior  benefits payment                                                                    
2:22:55 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair  Seaton  MOVED  to  ADOPT  the  proposed  committee                                                                    
substitute  for  HB  236, Work  Draft  30-LS0754\D  (Glover,                                                                    
Co-Chair Foster OBJECTED for discussion.                                                                                        
JANE PIERSON,  STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE NEAL  FOSTER, explained                                                                    
the  changes in  the  Work Draft.  The  change extended  the                                                                    
program  from  four years  to  six  years at  the  sponsor's                                                                    
Co-Chair  Foster  WITHDREW  his OBJECTION.  There  being  NO                                                                    
further OBJECTION, it was so ordered.                                                                                           
2:24:21 PM                                                                                                                    
AT EASE                                                                                                                         
2:24:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT  KAWASAKI, SPONSOR,  briefly introduced                                                                    
the  legislation. He  shared that  the bill  was simple  and                                                                    
kept "grandparents  in the state"  by enabling  some seniors                                                                    
to  continue to  live in  Alaska. He  read from  the sponsor                                                                    
     House  Bill  236  would   extend  the  Senior  Benefits                                                                    
     Program  to  2022,  ensuring   another  four  years  of                                                                    
     support for  low income seniors across  Alaska. Without                                                                    
     action, the program would end in 2018.                                                                                     
     The   Senior  Benefits   Program  protects   low-income                                                                    
     seniors by  providing them with modest  cash assistance                                                                    
     to pay  for expenses  like food,  heating, electricity,                                                                    
     transportation and prescription medication.                                                                                
     The  program  was  established in  2007  and  currently                                                                    
     provides assistance  to nearly 11,500 Alaskans  ages 65                                                                    
     and older with incomes at  75 percent, 100 percent, and                                                                    
     175 percent  of the  federal poverty  level. Assistance                                                                    
     ranges from $76  to $250 a month  for eligible seniors,                                                                    
     depending on  income and the size  of the appropriation                                                                    
     from the Alaska State  Legislature. The Senior Benefits                                                                    
     Program is  a successor to the  Longevity Bonus created                                                                    
     in 1972.                                                                                                                   
     This  program   protects  seniors  who  have   spent  a                                                                    
     lifetime building this  state. It lends a  hand to low-                                                                    
     income seniors  who need assistance  to help  make ends                                                                    
     meet. Terminating  this program would put  thousands of                                                                    
     seniors  at  risk for  losing  means  to buy  essential                                                                    
     items  necessary for  maintaining a  healthy lifestyle,                                                                    
     such  as  groceries, medication,  transportation,  rent                                                                    
     and utilities.                                                                                                             
2:28:31 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Kawasaki elaborated  that the  bill received                                                                    
extensive vetting  and was placed  in a subcommittee  in the                                                                    
House Health  and Social Services  Committee. He  listed the                                                                    
members  of  the  subcommittee; Representative  Fansler  and                                                                    
Representative Sullivan-Leonard.  He relayed that he  held a                                                                    
statewide  listening session  in September  2017 to  gain as                                                                    
much public input as possible on the bill.                                                                                      
MERCEDES  COLBERT,  STAFF,  REPRESENTATIVE  SCOTT  KAWASAKI,                                                                    
offered to review program requirements.                                                                                         
Co-Chair Foster  requested that the invited  testifier share                                                                    
her testimony.                                                                                                                  
DENISE  DANIELLO, EXECUTIVE  DIRECTOR, ALASKA  COMMISSION ON                                                                    
AGING, DEPARTMENT  OF HEALTH  AND SOCIAL  SERVICES, provided                                                                    
information  about the  commission. She  explained that  the                                                                    
commission  existed  within  the Department  of  Health  and                                                                    
Social  Services  (DHSS) and  worked  to  plan services  for                                                                    
seniors,  educate  Alaskans  regarding  senior  issues,  and                                                                    
provided recommendations  regarding budget and  policy items                                                                    
that  affected   senior  citizens.  She  relayed   that  the                                                                    
commission strongly supported the  bill and extension of the                                                                    
Senior  Benefits Program,  which benefitted  the quality  of                                                                    
life  for  over  11,000 seniors.  She  identified  financial                                                                    
security  as  a  pressing  issue  confronting  seniors.  She                                                                    
shared that  over the  years the  program's growth  had been                                                                    
modest.    The   state's    senior   population    increased                                                                    
approximately  4   percent  annually  and   120,908  seniors                                                                    
resided  in  the  state.  The  program  increased  only  1.7                                                                    
percent  statewide. She  elaborated that  the Commission  on                                                                    
Aging  held  a joint  senior  advocacy  meeting recently  in                                                                    
Juneau  with H  NET, The  Pioneer Home  Advisory Board,  and                                                                    
AARP  Alaska.  She  related  that all  were  in  support  of                                                                    
passage of  the bill. She  characterized the bill as  a hand                                                                    
up to seniors, not a handout.                                                                                                   
2:32:03 PM                                                                                                                    
DAVID   BLACKETER,  CHAIR,   ALASKA  COMMISSION   ON  AGING,                                                                    
DEPARTMENT OF  HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES,  spoke in support                                                                    
of the  legislation. He appreciated  the program  and shared                                                                    
that he  benefitted from the  program. He conveyed  that his                                                                    
only other income was from  social security. He outlined the                                                                    
various timing of income received  during the month and when                                                                    
his bills  were due.  He and  his wife  received a  total of                                                                    
$152  from the  program, which  helped him  pay his  rent on                                                                    
time.  He noted  that if  he did  not pay  the rent  on time                                                                    
there was a penalty. He  noted that around 1,200 people were                                                                    
receiving senior benefits from the program in Alaska.                                                                           
2:34:26 PM                                                                                                                    
JAYNE  ANDREEN,  AARP,  JUNEAU,  spoke  in  support  of  the                                                                    
legislation. She  shared that AARP  had over  95,000 members                                                                    
in Alaska.  She shared a  personal story about  visiting her                                                                    
elderly  parents and  discussing  with them  how they  could                                                                    
remain  in their  home and  sustain a  quality of  life. She                                                                    
elucidated that  one group who  would most benefit  from the                                                                    
program  was older  women. She  communicated that  women had                                                                    
lower earning power  and outlived men. As  the husband faced                                                                    
declining health,  resources were  used on him  leaving less                                                                    
for  the woman  when she  is widowed.  The organization  was                                                                    
also concerned about low income  Alaskans who had worked all                                                                    
their lives  at low paying jobs  and were not able  to build                                                                    
retirement  income. In  addition, rural  Alaskans, living  a                                                                    
subsistence  lifestyle benefitted  from  senior benefits  as                                                                    
well  as  the oldest  living  individuals;  people in  their                                                                    
80's,  90's, and  100  or older.  She  shared another  story                                                                    
about a family member who was  able to live at home until he                                                                    
was 99 years  of age, but his resources  had been completely                                                                    
used up.  She concluded that the  classifications of seniors                                                                    
she listed benefitted  the most from senior  benefits due to                                                                    
increasing health  costs and needs for  services without the                                                                    
increasing income to meet the needs.                                                                                            
2:37:34 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Foster CLOSED public testimony.                                                                                        
Representative Wilson was supportive of moving the bill.                                                                        
Co-Chair  Foster believed  the  bill  had strong  bipartisan                                                                    
Representative  Grenn  had  a  comment  about  amending  the                                                                    
fiscal note to reflect the extension to six years.                                                                              
2:38:54 PM                                                                                                                    
AT EASE                                                                                                                         
2:39:54 PM                                                                                                                    
Vice-Chair  Gara addressed  the previously  published fiscal                                                                    
impact  note  from  the  Department  of  Health  and  Social                                                                    
Services  (FN  1 (DHS))  allocated  to  the Senior  Benefits                                                                    
Payment  Program.   He  shared   that  the  note   showed  a                                                                    
consistent program  cost of $19,986,100 through  FY 2024. He                                                                    
reported that an  amended fiscal note to  extend the program                                                                    
to 2024 was forthcoming.                                                                                                        
Co-Chair  Seaton  MOVED  to  REPORT  CSHB  236(FIN)  out  of                                                                    
committee   with   individual    recommendations   and   the                                                                    
accompanying fiscal note.                                                                                                       
CSHB  236(FIN) was  REPORTED  out of  committee  with a  "do                                                                    
pass"  recommendation and  with one  new fiscal  impact note                                                                    
from the Department of Health and Social Services.                                                                              
Co-Chair  Foster reviewed  the  schedule  for the  following