House votes to extend Senior Benefits program
Public testimony key in garnering support
March 1, 2018
HB 236, the House bill seeking to extend the sunset date for the Alaska Senior Benefits Program, was approved by the House of Representatives 35-1 on Feb. 7 and is currently waiting to be reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee.
The program supports nearly 11,400 seniors statewide, according to a figure from the Alaska Commission on Aging (ACoA), but without an extension of the sunset clause will end on July 1, 2018. In the January 2018 issue of Senior Voice, Denise Daniello, Executive Director of the ACoA, stated the importance of advocacy for the Senior Benefits program in particular.
“The risk of living in poverty increases with age as older people spend more of their fixed income on health care and living expenses,” she said. “Senior Benefits is a very important program for many seniors statewide.”
The ACoA and AgeNet were able to sit in on the House Health and Social Services committee hearing, according to Daniello, as the commission and various senior advocacy organizations were in Juneau Feb. 5-9 for their annual face-to-face board meeting with legislators and their staff.
“This was the first time HB 236 was heard by the committee,” said Daniello. “Usually the chair breaks overnight and votes in the future, but the bill was admitted during the first committee hearing, which is really great news.”
First introduced by Representatives Kawasaki, Sponholz, Fansler and Tuck in April 2017, the bill initially sought to extend the program’s sunset clause to June 30, 2022. After being reintroduced this legislative season, a substitution was requested by the House Finance committee to replace the four-year extension with a six-year extension, allowing the sunset clause to extend to June 30, 2024.
In September 2017, Mercedes Colbert, Chief of Staff for Representative Kawasaki, Daniello and AARP Alaska orchestrated a three-hour public testimony hearing for seniors, family members and advocates to speak in support of the bill.
“The support from the public testimony helped encourage this further extension,” said Colbert, “and with this in mind, the substitution was passed by almost the full House of Representatives.”
Additionally, SB 170, the Senate bill sponsored by Senators Kelly, Wilson and Hughes that seeks to extend the program’s sunset date to June 30, 2023, moved through the Senate Health and Social Services committee on Feb. 9, and many Senators that co-sponsored SB 170 also signed on to co-sponsor HB 236 after it moved to the Senate Health and Social Services committee on the same day, added Daniello.
As of Senior Voice press date, the Senate Finance Committee hearings for both HB 236 and SB 170 have yet to be announced, but there is potential for another public testimony, said Colbert.
“This would be another opportunity for Senior Voice readers to participate,” added Colbert.
“The commission is so happy we were given the extra two-year extension by the House Finance Committee,” said Daniello. “We couldn’t believe there was so much traction to reauthorize the Senior Benefits program.”
To view the hearing schedule for the Senate Finance Committee and potential public testimony, visit http://www.Akleg.gov and search for “HB 236” and “SB 170,” respectively, in the search bar on the upper right corner of the screen to view each bill’s hearing date.