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ANCHORAGE - About 100 senior citizens turned out at the Anchorage Senior Center on Monday night to criticize Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to eliminate the state's longevity bonus program.
Longevity bonuses, started in 1972, are monthly payments of up to $250 to Alaska's senior citizens 65 and older.
Ending the bonus program June 30 as the governor suggests would save $47 million, a big chunk of the $189 million the governor wants to cut in state programs this year.
But the cuts drew fire from seniors at the meeting, organized by AARP, a national organization that advocates for older people.
"I'm a retired fisherman," said John Anderson. "I didn't have a pension."
Anderson's wife, Madge, followed up, saying she worked a job with no benefits for years and was also without benefits and unable to afford the balanced diet prescribed by her doctor. "I live below the poverty level. Mr. Murkowski and his offer of meals on wheels is nothing short of insulting. Shame on him."
Mike Miller, commissioner for the state Department of Administration, was due to speak at the group's Monday night meeting, but his plane was delayed.
In an interview, Miller said court rulings changed the longevity bonus program so that it was no longer the original program honoring pre-statehood pioneers.
"The question is could some of that money be better spent," Miller said, for people who are on the edge financially. "There are 100 beds not being used at the pioneers' home because there isn't the funding to pay for staff."
Other seniors said they were worried that Murkowski intends for them to go on welfare.