Senior Benefits funding restored
‘Top tier’ payments of $47 will continue
Last March, the Senior Benefit program’s top tier beneficiaries – those who qualify for the program at the highest income levels allowed – saw their monthly payments drop from the program’s initial $125 to $47. As of Senior Voice press time for the April edition, March 29, legislators had voted to completely cut out the top tier funds for the program due to the state’s limited budget for the rest of FY16.
However, funds were restored to the Senior Benefits program May 31, as well as other state funded programs that have been deeply impacted by recent budget cuts like the Pioneer Homes, says Denise Daniello, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Aging (ACoA).
“Funding was restored to keep the top tier’s monthly funds around for FY17,” said Daniello. “$5.1 million was included in the Governor’s operating budget for this program, meaning that the highest income tier and the two lower income tiers will be maintained this year.”
Up until March 1, the program has paid three different payments of $250, $175 and $125 to seniors 65 years and older with incomes ranging from $11,130 in individual households annually for the lowest income tier to $25,970 in individual households annually for the top income tier, with the income qualifications changing yearly based on the Alaska Federal Poverty Guidelines. After March 1’s drastic cuts, the top tier’s monthly payments dropped 62 percent, affecting 5,348 seniors.
After reconfiguring the FY17 budget, the Senior Benefits program released a fact sheet on June 30 explaining the changes to the program’s monthly funds. While the second and third income tiers will continue to receive the full payments of $175 and $250 for the remainder of FY16 and the entirety of FY17, the top income tier will continue to receive $47 monthly until August 1 when FY17’s newly allotted monthly allowance of $76 per month will begin to be dispersed. According to the fact sheet, there were issues with finalizing the new budget in time for FY17’s start date of July 1.
The Senior Benefit program’s reliance on general funds makes it dependent on the state’s budget, said Daniello, and the number of seniors eligible for the program keeps increasing.
“In 2011, there were about 10,000 seniors on the program,” said Daniello, referencing the program’s newly released fact sheet. “As of April 2016, there were 11,855 people on the program, and they keep track by every calendar year, so there could be more by now even.”
Additionally, the unpredictability of the budget at times means that the top tier beneficiaries are the first to see cuts when there isn’t enough funding in the budget, followed by the second and third tiers depending on the situation.
However, Daniello feels confident that there won’t be another last minute cut like last spring.
“As far as we know, $76 is set for FY17,” added Daniello. “Any program that is 100 percent general funds is always at risk. Hopefully this won’t happen again. No one predicted last year, but I think we are going to be good this year.”
Additionally, the program is fast approaching its newest sunset date of June 30, 2018, added Daniello, with ACoA hoping that the legislature will champion renewal legislation for the program’s upcoming January 2017 legislature.
“The monthly checks make major differences in quality of life. People use the cash for medicine and food,” said Daniello, “so it’s on our radar.”
To view the Senior Benefits program fact sheet mentioned above for more details on income levels and eligibility, visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/dpa/Documents/dpa/pdf/SBP_Fact_Sheet.pdf.