Alaska editorial: Support a modified assistance program for state's seniors

Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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Call it what you like - Longevity Bonus, Alaska Senior Assistance Program or some other moniker.

Ultimately the State of Alaska cares about its senior citizens in need of assistance and will provide. A state with $37 billion in its Alaska Permanent Fund savings account would be derelict if it didn't.

But it isn't necessary or especially appropriate for the state to pay the same assistance to wealthy and sufficiently provided-for older Alaskans.

The state set up the Longevity Bonus program in 1972 to provide Alaskans at least 65 years old who had been here at least 20 years a financial incentive to remain in the state. Seniors of all ages were eligible and a court ruling expanded the qualified seniors to all, without a lengthy residency requirement. The state discontinued the program four years ago during a decline in state revenue, largely because the program had started to phase itself out. It was destined to be discontinued.

In its place, the Murkowski administration set up the Alaska SeniorCare Program. The program pays $120 per month to seniors in need of assistance and up to $700 in prescription drug premiums and deductibles. The Longevity Bonus paid between $100 and $250 per month with no prescription drug provision. The amount dispersed per enrollee depended on when they signed up to participate. New enrollees received the lesser amount.

Last week state lawmakers proposed a program less expensive than the Longevity Bonus that provided for all qualifying seniors regardless of wealth. The new proposal calls for payments between $125 and $250 in a needs-based cash assistance program. No prescription provision included.

The Longevity Bonus paid all eligible senior Alaskans between $1,200 and $3,000 a year; the Senior-Care program pays senior Alaskans seeking assistance $2,140 annually; and the new proposal would pay between $1,500 and $3,000 to only seniors in need of assistance.

The original senior assistance program in the form of the Longevity Bonus was designed to make it more affordable for pioneer Alaskans to remain in the state after retirement. It never should have been applied to wealthy senior Alaskans; they already had the financial means to do that.

The program should have been for senior Alaskans at income levels that would have made it difficult to remain in state. An annual allowed income to qualify would have had to have been established.

The Longevity Bonus isn't right for Alaska now. The SeniorCare Program helped, but the Legislature can improve upon it without handing checks to Alaskans who admit they don't need them.

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