Legislators work on senior services budget

The Senate Finance Health and Social Services Subcommittee closed out the operating budget for FY18 for the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) on Mar. 14.

The Senate Subcommittee was able to reduce the DHSS budget by an additional 5 percent in general funds from the Governor’s FY18 budget with no additional reductions to many senior programs, including Senior Community Grant Services, Senior Benefits, elder protection and other services.

“The committee prioritized seniors and the developmentally disabled for this year’s budget,” said Subcommittee Chair Senator Peter Micciche. “We feel they’ve felt enough cuts in the past.”

In order to ensure certain programs were left untouched by reductions, HB 57, the bill regarding DHSS’s FY18 budget, declared that unrestricted general funds up to $25 million could be transferred throughout any aspect of the department at the discretion of the of the Dept. of Health and Social Services commissioner.

Although the committee was able to reduce cuts for most senior programs, some are still facing reductions.

Adult Public Assistance is to be reduced by $3.5 million. Based on recent projections calculated by DHSS and confirmed by the Legislative Finance Division, DHSS anticipates $3.5 million in excess of what Adult Public Assistance beneficiaries receive during FY18, according to HB 57. A portion of these deleted funds, $3.2 million in unrestricted general funds, have been moved to the Office of Children’s Services/Front Line Social Workers to reduce excessive caseloads of new workers, extend training to more a appropriate level and add needed mentors and supervisors.

As of April 13, the budget also calls for the Alaska Pioneer Homes to take a personnel budget reduction of $5.7 million. However, the Senate has since rallied together and created a Sense of the Senate, a rarely utilized legislative process where a body votes to take a formal position on an issue, says a press statement release from Senator Micciche’s office. The document states that the Senate seeks to eliminate all further cuts to the Alaska Pioneer Homes by transferring funds from other areas of the department to cover the remaining $5.7 million deficit.

“The reason for the Sense of the Senate is simple,” added Senator Micciche in a press release. “It’s a formal declaration that the Alaska Senate wants seniors in our great state to rest assured that we support them. There will not be any closures of the state’s Pioneer Homes. We know the budget process can often be confusing, and wanted to formally clarify that budget reductions will not adversely impact them.”

See Gov. Walker’s letter above, regarding Pioneer Home funding. – Ed.

Additionally, there will be cuts to Medicaid programs such as Medicaid Adult Preventative Dental Services, with a 10 percent decrease in funds, and Medicaid Optional Prescription Drugs will see a 4 percent decrease. DHSS is also directed to find program efficiencies for both of the Medicaid programs.

Public Health Nursing will see a 5 percent decrease in General Funds, and the DHSS is directed to find efficiencies by collaborating more with community health centers, tribal health and other clinics.

“I was a small town mayor for many years, and I always wanted to change the trend of grandparents leaving Alaska for warmer places like Arizona,” Sen. Micciche said. “We want to keep seniors happy with an adequate level of service. We want to keep them here. I recently visited the Pioneer Homes and gave them forget-me-not pins. I wanted them to know that they are not forgotten, that they are a priority for us.”

To view further documentation regarding HB 57, visit http://www.akleg.gov and search for HB 57.