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Make Senior Benefits Permanent, Democrats Say

Reauthorizing Senior Benefits Program now shows commitment to Alaska’s seniors

JUNEAU - Today, Democratic legislators in the Alaska state House and Senate announced legislation to reauthorize and make permanent the Senior Benefits Program, currently set to expire June 30, 2015.

"Many Seniors are on a fixed income and need time to plan,” said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), one of the co-prime sponsors who pre-filed the legislation (HB261) today.  "My grandmother just passed last year at 90, and over the years we struggled to make ends meet as her income had less and less buying power.  The Senior Benefits Program helps needy seniors with essential purchases like food, medicine, and housing."

The Senior Benefits Program is a needs-based program which pays out payments of $125, $175, or $250 per month to qualifying senior Alaskans based on their level of income. The state created the program following the elimination of the Longevity Bonus Program, which paid out $250 per month to all eligible senior Alaskans regardless of income.  

“Our seniors need the money that’s been promised to them, let’s make sure they get it," said Representative Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage).

Currently, an individual senior Alaskan eligible for a $250 monthly payment may not have an annual income that exceeds $10,763.  A married couple receiving $250 per month may not have an annual income that exceeds $14,535.   To qualify, residents must be age 65 or older, live in Alaska voluntarily, plan to make Alaska their home, and have a Social Security number.  

"With looming deficits, some lawmakers may be tempted to look at cutting aid to our senior citizens. This bill is aimed at removing that temptation," said Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage), incoming Minority Leader of the Senate Democrats.

The Senior Benefits Program was reauthorized once before, in 2011, as part of a bill that also included changes to the statutes related to the Alaska Pioneer Homes. Twenty-four House members and 15 Senate members co-sponsored it that year, and the bill passed unanimously in both bodies. 

In addition to Tarr and Gruenberg, the co-prime sponsors of HB261 are: House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau), House Democratic Whip Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage), Representative Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage), Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), Representative David Guttenberg (D-Wade Hampton/Fairbanks), Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), and Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks).

French, Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage), and Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) will introduce the Senate companion legislation at the beginning of the upcoming legislative session.

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