Bill passages are a win for older Alaskans, families
July 1, 2023 | View PDF
The 33rd Alaska Legislature concluded its first year of the two-year session on May 18—one day after its 121-day constitutional regular session limit. The governor called a special session, asking the legislature to agree to a balanced budget funding state services and permanent fund dividends (PFD) for fiscal year 2024 beginning July 1, 2023. The budget impasse during the regular session focused on the size of the PFD.
The Senate Majority favored a 25/75 split of the annual 5% Percent of Market Value (POMV) draw of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve, providing an approximate $1,300 PFD and an overall balanced budget in addition to a one-time education funding increase. The House Majority favored a 50/50 split of the POMV resulting in an approximate $2,700 PFD but left the overall budget with a $600 to $800 million deficit. Ultimately, the House Minority joined in supporting the Senate Majority and a handful of House Majority members were swayed to accept the Senate-passed budget, ending the special session after just one day.
Both of the budget items that AARP supported passed both the House and Senate, including funding to start a new program using Participant Directed Care. This increment of $420,000 state funding plus federal Medicaid match provides enough funding for Seniors and Disabilities Services to create a Cost Allocation Assessment Tool. This Assessment Tool would provide better predictability of budget needs, more flexibility and self-directed choice of care providers.
Participants in self-directed programs often choose to hire family, close friends or neighbors as paid caregivers. Paid family caregiving through participant-direction addresses multiple needs: the person who needs care can age in place among friends and family; the family caregiver can earn modest income for the difficult work he or she performs, which helps lessen the impact of the caregivers’ lost job hours and lost pay; the homecare workforce is expanded by hiring family and friends who would not otherwise provide care; and it prolongs the use of low-cost home and community-based services instead of forcing individuals into high-cost nursing home and assisted living home placements.
Increased funding for community-based grants
The second budget items that AARP supported was a nearly $1.5 million increase in Seniors and Disabilities Community Based Grants. Community grants serve Alaskans all over the state from Anchorage to Nome to Juneau and Ketchikan, allowing seniors to live in the community of their choice. These grants had remained essentially flat for the past 10 years, neither keeping up with inflation or accounting for the 50% increase in Alaska’s senior population during that time. Last year, the legislature supported this increase to make up for years of flat funding and inflation but the increase was vetoed by the governor. This year the governor put this funding back in the budget where it stayed in throughout the session.
Expanded home care options
The legislature passed 30 bills in this first year of the legislative session, which is 8% of the 362 filed. It’s not unusual for the Alaska Legislature to pass fewer bills in the first year and many more in the second year of the session. This may have been exacerbated this year by the largest freshman class of legislators in state history.
AARP supported 14 bills, two of which passed (14%). SB57 Adult Home Care passed, which encompassed SB106, resulting in two wins for AARP. Adult Home Care will expand home and community based services options by establishing a new residential licensing category called Adult Host Homes, which are limited to two elders and will provide a new lower level of care than current assisted living homes. The addition of SB106 will allow legally responsible individuals, including guardians, parents and spouses, to be paid family caregivers as personal care attendants through the current homecare agency model. This was allowed temporarily under the COVID public health emergency and will now be permanent.
To read about the AARP supported bills that will carryover into the 2024 legislative session visit https://states.aarp.org/alaska/legislative-wins.
To add your voice to our legislative advocacy visit http://www.aarp.org/getinvolved.
Marge Stoneking is the AARP Alaska Associate State Director – Advocacy.