Standing up for Alaska's seniors and retirees

With Alaska having the fastest growing senior population in the country, we must lay the foundation for an Alaskan retirement to be as attractive as an Alaskan career. As our population ages we will face new challenges in providing services and adapting our communities to be more responsive to the needs of our senior citizens. Lawmakers must stay ahead of the curve in providing the services and outreach Alaskans need. I was proud to be the Senate sponsor of the recently enacted Silver Alert legislation creating an early notification system for missing and vulnerable adults, ensuring state and federal agencies work together to provide the most rapid response possible.

Silver Alert addresses emergency situations, yet many retirees face other everyday hurdles that require collaboration and problem solving from our elected leaders. Lately it’s been politically popular to emphasize a lack of cooperation with the federal government. While Alaska may have divergent goals and interests from the federal government when it comes to resource development and land management, working together to find solutions for our senior population is one area in which we can prosper as partners.

One of the most common and difficult transitions for most retirees is the transition to a fixed income. Recognizing the unusually high cost of living in Alaska and the pivotal role of our pioneer generation in the formation of our state, Alaska provides supplemental assistance to our Alaskan senior population through a program known as Senior Benefits. Eliminated by former Governor Murkowski, I fought hard alongside members of the bipartisan working group in the Senate to reinstate these benefits at varying levels based on a needs assessment. The program continues today, providing thousands of Alaska seniors in need with a little extra financial assistance each month.

In Washington, Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 and the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act. Many retired Alaskan teachers and other public employees are unfairly penalized for common circumstances such as a career change or the death of a spouse by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). The Social Security Fairness Act would eliminate these arbitrary and unjust calculations that have a negative financial impact on over 10,000 Alaskan seniors.

The Preserving Social Security Act seeks to increase benefits for seniors and those with disabilities by reforming the “cost of living” calculation to incorporate the higher health care and consumer costs seniors face. Alongside a gradual lifting of the Social Security cap for high income contributors, the Preserving Social Security Act will ensure the fiscal solvency of Social Security for 75 more years.

Other challenges remain. The unique contributions of our Alaskan pioneers and seniors demand the same spirit of hard work and cooperation by our public leaders and elected officials to provide a safe, secure and prosperous future in their home state, Alaska. I am proud to work alongside Alaskan leaders like Senator Mark Begich to make this vision a reality.

Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) serves Airport Heights, Downtown, Fairview, Government Hill, Mountain View, Russian Jack and South Addition in Anchorage.

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