Eligible seniors will receive their final Longevity Bonus checks in August 2003. With that check, they will receive information about a new program called the Alaska Senior Assistance Program (ASAP). The ASAP is not a replacement for the Longevity Bonus, but it will help soften the blow to some seniors who are losing the bonus.
By Marianne Mills
The Alaska Senior Assistance Program is a temporary program that will provide $120 a month to Alaska seniors age 65 or older who meet certain income and asset tests. To be eligible, a senior must have an annual income of no more than $15,134 and assets of no more than $4,000. Couples living together who are married may have an annual income of no more than $20,439 and assets of no more than $6,000. Even if only one of the individuals is over 65, eligibility will be based on the couple's combined income and assets.
Only liquid assets, such as cash, bank accounts, stocks and individual retirement accounts, will be counted. A home, automobiles and other property will not be counted, although income from real estate will count. Permanent Fund Dividend income will not be counted, but Native corporation dividends will count.
The individual must be a citizen or legal alien, a current resident of Alaska and must plan to remain in Alaska for the duration of the program. Seniors living independently or in a private assisted-living home are eligible; however, persons living in a nursing home or other institutional setting are not eligible.
Some seniors may qualify for the ASAP even if they were not eligible for the Longevity Bonus. Everyone who receives Old Age Assistance is eligible to apply; in fact, these persons will get information in the mail about the new program and will receive a short application to complete and send back. The new program is more flexible than public assistance - no proof of income or interview will be required, and the income allowed for eligibility is higher (up to 135 percent of the poverty level).
"The Alaska Senior Assistance Program is intended to serve as a safety net service for seniors," reported Angela Salerno, the program coordinator for the Division of Public Assistance.
"It will help persons with their basic needs, such as food, housing and medication."
Salerno explains that the state offers other safety net services for seniors, such as Medicaid, energy assistance, food stamps and meals.
Funding for the new program is available from the federal government to assist hard-pressed state governments. Since this funding will end in June, the new program will operate for only 11 months. The emergency regulations drafted to start the program as soon as possible are available on the web at www.hss.state.ak.us/dpa or by calling 465-3200. Hearings on the program regulations will take place from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. on July 17 at Centennial Hall's Egan Room.
Persons who need the $120-per- month benefit are encouraged to complete an ASAP application as soon as possible if they want to receive a check in September. Eligible seniors need only apply once by mail. Applications will be available by mid-July on the public assistance Web site and at senior centers, public assistance offices and other community agencies around the state. For further information, call 465-3200.
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs in Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Yakutat as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service.