No further cuts to Pioneer Homes – for now
Governor Bill Walker’s new operating budget for FY 2018 brings welcome news for the Alaska Pioneer Homes – no budget cuts for the homes. Since FY 2015, the Department of Health and Social Services, which includes services like the six Alaska Pioneer Homes, have seen the largest reduction in state funding, at $150 million in spending reductions. The homes have lost $1.3 million in funding, forcing numerous staff positions to be cut.
“We lost 31 full time staff across the division since 2015,” says Julie Sande, administrator of the Ketchikan Pioneer Home.
Although the budget has yet to be passed by the legislature, the homes’ administrators are hopeful.
“The budget is months away from being finalized, so it’s too soon to know if it will stand,” said Sande, “however, we are pleased that the proposed budget does not have further reductions.”
According to a Dec. 2016 press release by Gov. Walker, his three-part plan first seeks to further cut spending by requiring nearly all state workers to take at least two unpaid days off and contribute more toward health care coverage, and Governor Walker will take a one-third reduction in salary.
Additionally, the Permanent Fund Protection Act (PFPA) will allow the state to take funds from the Permanent Fund’s Reserve Account to provide consistent funding for government services such as public safety, education and transportation. The PFPA ensures that Alaska residents will still receive a dividend of at least $1,000 for 2017 and plans to maintain dividends for a similar amount for years to come, according to the press statement.
The governor also hopes to generate new revenue through broad-based taxes such as a motor fuels tax where funds would cover road maintenance, snow removal and other transportation system costs.
“To fund services Alaskans rely on, it’s critical to discuss new revenue. We look forward to working with the legislature to pass a sustainable fiscal plan during the upcoming session,” Gov. Walker said in the press release.
Although Gov. Walker’s FY 2018 budget doesn’t include further cuts to the homes, the previous $1.3 million in funds that have been lost will not be restored, noted Sande. To offset reductions and normal increases in expenses, such as regular wage increases, the homes raised rates in Feb. 2016, delayed improvement projects, cut rides to medical appointments and respite care and have reduced the number of resident spaces available to maintain the staff-to-resident ratio after cutting the 31 staff positions.
“The homes are reducing services at a time where there is an increase in demand for them,” Sande said. “In December 2016, the active waitlist was at 359 Alaskans, the longest I’ve seen in my 20 years working for the homes, and we only had 42 beds available.”
“System-wide, all the administrators have worked hard to withstand cuts, and we understand that we’re all in this together,” Sande said. “We want to take our part of this and help the state in our current financial situation.”