It is wrong to cut Alaska's Senior Benefits program
With a $3.9 billion dollar deficit, it’s important for the legislature to make big cuts, and we have. However, cuts to our most vulnerable seniors is a mistake, and that’s one of the issues we continue to debate. Established in 2007, the Senior Benefits Program helps provide Alaskan seniors on limited incomes the means to afford basic life necessities, such as food and housing. While we recognize that times are tough and Alaska must tighten its belt, we cannot support doing it on the backs of Alaska’s pioneers.
Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage), Sen. Dennis Egan (D-Juneau), Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), Sen. Donny Olson (D-Golovin), and Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) supported my efforts to restore $5.09 million originally cut by the governor’s office. These cuts are set to impact two tiers of the Senior Benefit Program, thus affecting all Alaskans over 65 years of age making between $11,040 and $25,760 per year.
Over the years, financial advisory organizations have consistently ranked Alaska as one of the toughest places in the United States to retire, mostly due to the high cost of living. We believe restoring this benefit is critical for our most vulnerable seniors. These men and women are among those who raised us, fought for our freedoms, and founded our great state. We need to make sure they are warm, fed and healthy.
Unfortunately, the Senior Benefits Program is one of several key budget items in which my colleagues and I differ substantially from our majority counterparts. Since the budget debate began, we have offered hundreds of millions of dollars in further cuts to offset our support of the Senior Benefits Program, proper funding of public education to provide a bright future for our children, and keeping our contractual promises to our public employees. Yet these ideas have all been rejected by the majority.
There’s an old saying, “Don’t tell me what your values are, show me what your budget is and I’ll tell you what your values are.” While we support sustainable spending and reducing the budget, we don’t support trying to balance our budget on the backs of our seniors, children and hardworking public servants.
We cannot control the price of oil, but we will not allow a fluctuation in the price of a commodity to change our priorities. Please contact your legislators to express your concerns over cuts to the Senior Benefits Program and public education. Ask them to honor our promises to our hard working custodians, secretaries and public safety officers. Alaska can pull together and weather this fiscal storm, but we need a robust dialogue and the participation of Alaskans of all ages, locations and persuasions.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) represents Senate District H, East Anchorage and Elemendorf AFB.