Payments to seniors may now increase

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2007

A special session of the Legislature is to meet Tuesday in Anchorage with plans to save the SeniorCare program for needy elders from its scheduled demise.

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There are indications that seniors may actually get a boost in their payments.

"I think the will is there to see the aid increased," said Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and House minority leader.

That could boost the current typical payment of $120 a month to as much as $250 a month, depending on which bill version is adopted next week and amendments during the special session.

The SeniorCare program is scheduled to end at the end of June, unless renewed by the Legislature.

It fell victim to an unrelated fight over killing the state's dormant Longevity Bonus program, and when a bipartisan group of legislators voted to keep the bonus language in state law, even though it hadn't been funded in years, Republican legislative leaders stopped any action on either program.

In the final hours of the Legislature in May, Kerttula's Democrats made a last effort to resurrect SeniorCare, but the effort failed along party lines.

Soon after the end of the session, however, Gov. Sarah Palin weighed in on the issue, asking the Legislature to help out seniors and saying she'd do whatever the executive branch could to keep the needed checks coming.

A likely vehicle for the effort next week will be House Bill 128, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, to provide benefits for seniors.

"That's the proposal that I'm in favor of," said Rep. Bob Buch, D-Anchorage.

"I'm fairly confident that is going to be the one getting the closest scrutiny," he said.

That bill would provide payments of $250 a month for a senior who makes less than $9,578; $175 a month for a senior who makes between $9,578 and $12,770; $125 a month for a senior who makes between $12,770 and $22,348, said Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, who said he is also supporting that version.

That proposal would cost the state $19.4 million, up from the estimated $10 million of the current program.

Neither Hawker nor Palin were available for comment Friday.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com or 523-2250.



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