Alaska Commission on Aging lays out legislative priorities

The legislature’s clock is ticking. The last day of the 2014 Alaska legislative session falls on Easter Sunday, April 20. Top issues being discussed among legislators include increasing Alaska’s oil and gas production, meeting in-state energy needs, education reform, workforce development, preventing Fetal Alcohol Disorder, promoting healthy communities, among other issues. Responsible spending is this year’s theme for framing budget discussions, with an emphasis on funding programs that can demonstrate measurable outcomes.

During our recent legislative advocacy meeting in Juneau, the Alaska Commission on Aging (ACoA) met with many of our legislators to advocate for long-term support services for Alaskan seniors and their caregivers. ACoA was joined by AgeNet, the statewide coalition of senior service providers, to voice support for the following senior service budget priorities.

Budget priorities

ACoA supports increased funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program to increase the number of unpaid family caregivers who care for elderly family members with compromised health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, and the growing number of grandparents being called upon to raise their grandchildren. Family caregivers are the “heart and soul” of Alaska’s long-term care system. This is an existing senior grant funded program administered by the Alaska Division of Senior and Disabilities Services that provides case management, respite, training, counseling, supplemental services, information/referral and peer support.

As anyone who has been a caregiver knows all too well, this work is hard and carries a heavy price in terms of the financial, physical and emotional demands it places on the caregiver. When caregivers are supported in their roles, however, they may be able to provide better care for longer periods of time, to the benefit of their elderly loved ones and society as a whole.

Many vulnerable older Alaskans who live at home receive help with their daily activities, with at least 75 percent of this care provided by family caregivers, mostly between the ages of 45 and 64 (Source: AARP 2011). Family caregivers of elderly persons include unpaid adult children caring for an elderly parent, spouses caring for their spouse, and other relatives, friends and neighbors caring for elderly loved ones. Caregiver support services were identified as a critical unmet need by participants who attended statewide Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD) community forums and by 100 percent of the respondents to the ADRD Family Caregiver Survey, activities sponsored by ACoA over the last 18 months.

Research shows that family caregivers who receive supports feel less stressed and better able to provide quality care longer for their loved ones at home. Caregivers of persons with dementia report that respite, training and counseling helped them to provide care at home on the average of 18 months longer for their elderly loved ones than those without supports (Mittelman 2008).

According to nationwide survey findings published in 2011 by the U.S. Administration on Aging, 80 percent of family caregivers surveyed reported that these services helped them provide care longer than they could otherwise.

Family caregivers make an important economic contribution to the care of people needing long-term support services. In Alaska, family caregivers provide more than an estimated $1 billion in unpaid care each year (AARP Public Policy Institute 2011). Without the availability of family caregivers, the economic cost of long-term support services to the state would be exponentially higher.

Secondly, the commission is advocating for additional funding for the Nutrition, Transportation, and Support Services (NTS) senior grant-funded program, administered by the Division of Senior and Disabilities Services. These core safety net services provide home-delivered meals that include a welfare check; congregate meals provided at senior centers, adult day programs and other group settings; assisted transportation; and homemaker services.

NTS services are available for all Alaskans age 60 years and older and are especially critical for seniors who are recovering from a fall, illness or surgery; persons not eligible for the Medicaid waiver or Personal Care Assistance but still require assistance to help maintain their independence; and those who are transitioning from an assisted living home or skilled nursing care facility back home.

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging (2010), 85 percent of older adults surveyed who receive these core services reported that this assistance helped them to remain at home. In research conducted by the Health Research and Educational Trust (2013), it was found that states which invest more funding in core senior services spend less on higher cost care for their elderly residents.

Specifically, they found that for every $25 states spend on home-delivered meals, for example, there is a 1 percent reduction in the number of new residents with low-care needs in the nursing home.

ACoA is advocating for additional funding to serve more seniors who need these core safety net services in order to maintain their health and independence.

Policy priorities

In addition, ACoA is advocating for budget items and legislation addressed by the following policy priorities:

Continuation of the Alaska Senior Benefits Payment Program. This program, which provides a crucial financial safety net for income-eligible Alaskan seniors age 65 and older, is scheduled to sunset on June 30, 2015. ACoA supports HB 263, sponsored by Representative Mike Hawker, to provide a six-year program extension to June 30, 2021.

Increase availability of affordable and appropriate senior housing across the continuum of care. ACoA supports (1) increased capital funding for Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s Senior Citizen Housing Development Grant Fund to support new construction and renovation of senior housing projects and (2) public-private partnerships to promote growth in senior housing that provides long-term support services.

Improve capacity to serve Alaskans with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD). ACoA supports (1) increased funding for senior grant funded services that serve Alaskans with ADRD and their caregivers; (2) implementation of the 1915(i) Medicaid waiver program to provide cueing and supervision for persons with ADRD who do not qualify for the waiver’s level of care requirements; and (3) development of the first-ever Alaska State Plan for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia.

Promote sustainability of Alaska’s Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs). ACoA supports Alaska’s ADRC system efforts to become fully functioning and sustainable by exploring new funding sources and implementing the consolidation of existing funding for these services.

Support policies that promote protection of older Alaskans from financial exploitation and other forms of abuse. ACoA supports efforts to reform Alaska’s durable power of attorney statute by incorporating provisions of the model Uniform Power of Attorney Act to further protect vulnerable older Alaskans against financial exploitation and to make Alaska’s Power of Attorney laws interstate-compatible, protecting seniors when they are away from home.

Legislative teleconferences

The commission hosts the statewide Senior Legislative Advocacy Teleconferences to review and discuss legislative items of interest to older Alaskans during session on alternate Thursday mornings, 9:30 to 11 a.m. and weekly during the last month of session. These meetings, accessible at participating senior centers, provide a great opportunity to get the inside scoop on legislation that affects Alaska seniors and how you can actively support bills and budget items benefiting seniors.

For more information about these teleconferences, please contact ACoA Planner Lesley Thompson, 907-465-4792, or visit the ACoA website to find dates for the next teleconference and meeting locations. Also, visit ACoA’s website to view our position papers and letters of support at

Denise Daniello is the Alaska Commission on Aging executive director.