My Turn: High cost of living not restricted to the Bush

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I read the article in the Empire about the noble effort by the Legislature wanting to help low income homeowners with the high cost of heating oil and have some comments regarding this. This effort would be all the more noble if the income limits that determine eligibility were more realistic. I am a single father of two teenage sons so I will use the income limits that apply to me.

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In the state of Alaska, the gross income for a family of three cannot exceed $2,684 per month. I make about $500 a month more than that, so I don't come even close to qualifying. It makes no difference that my net pay is only 67 percent of my gross pay due to taxes, retirement, health insurance and union due deductions. I have no idea how the $2,684 threshold was determined, but I would be willing to bet that any family of three whose gross pay is that amount of money or less is already receiving some sort of public assistance because a family of three simply cannot afford to live in Juneau on those wages alone.

The Empire article stated, "Most of the need is in hard-pressed Bush communities, where the cost of fuel and transportation can drive heating oil prices several dollars a gallon above Juneau's high prices."

"The places that give us the oil can't afford to heat their homes," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

I have news for Kerttula and the rest of the Legislature - there is need in every single community in Alaska. The high cost of living in the state of Alaska is not restricted to the Bush. If it is the Legislature's intent to help the citizens of this state because the cost of heating oil is out of sight, please insert some language into the bill that establishes income limits that are realistic and meaningful.

There is a portion of the population that needs help but gets absolutely nothing because of ridiculous and unrealistic income eligibility guidelines. I just got a heating oil fill-up on Saturday and it was $3.32 per gallon. How ironic that the permanent fund dividend I received a month ago because of oil is all going to be used not for Christmas presents for my sons or some other luxury but to buy heating oil this winter.

I doubt that I will ever qualify for energy assistance but I am not complaining about that or my life one bit. I am extremely blessed, and I don't lose one minute of sleep over my bills. I have faith that I will always have enough to provide for my children. But I do feel strongly enough to write about what I believe are eligibility income limits that are totally out of touch with reality. I pray that the Legislature wakes up to this fact and doesn't leave certain Alaskans out in the cold.

• Charley Larson is a Juneau resident.

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