Revise Longevity Bonus

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The politically possible time to lop off the Longevity Bonus has passed. Butchering should have been done when it, along with the original dividend program, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court for basing payments on durational residency.

Since then we should have at least restructured the program to better retain its original intent without creating the magnetic attraction luring some folks up here to receive a handout. Instead of adopting other suggested approaches that would have better retained that intent at far lower cost, the program was bastardized. Some newcomers age 65 received the entire $250 bonus after only a year's residency, while 60-year-old native-Alaskans born here years before statehood got nothing.

The original intent of the Longevity Bonus was to award Alaska's territorial "pioneers" for their contributions prior to statehood. While it might be argued some of us old timers should be penalized instead of rewarded, that stipulation held costs down since it rewarded only those who had "contributed" 25 years or more to Alaska. At its inception that meant only those who were here during territorial days. With the court's rejection, the floodgates opened and a multitude who would not have qualified under the original program got checks and costs ballooned to $47 million. How best to reduce those costs?

Since it seems unlikely most legislators will agree with the governor's proposal to behead the bonus, they should at least consider some reconstructive surgery.

There's a simple way not only to get back more nearly to original intent, but also save a great deal of money while stifling pleas not to demean our territorial "pioneers" by converting the bonus to a welfare entitlement.

Why not simply limit the bonus to only those who had been here during territorial days and rename it "The Territorial Pioneer Service Award?" Only those other current recipients who qualified by a needs test would continue to receive checks under what might be renamed "longevity assistance" or "senior supplement."

While not as clean-cut or cost efficient as total dismemberment, such reconstructive surgery seems far more politically palatable and would still save a significant sum. I suspect recipients of needs-based checks are not likely to complain too loudly or effectively of feeling "demeaned," particularly if bonus checks helped draw them up here in the first place. After all, they would have received nothing whatsoever under the original plan.

Jay Hammond

Port Alsworth

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