AARP Alaska legislative priorities in 2024
February 1, 2024 | View PDF
AARP 2024 legislative priorities focus on sustainable funding for senior safety net programs, adequate healthcare access, improved public services, and financial security.
Senior safety net programs
While most older Alaskans are self-supporting, some need financial assistance or no-cost services to remain independent. Senior safety net programs like Meals on Wheels, senior transportation, and the Senior Benefits Program provide foundational support to help low- and moderate-income elders remain in their homes and communities.
Senate Bill 170 (HB242), Alaska’s Senior Benefits Program. This program pays cash assistance tied to the Alaska Federal Poverty Guidelines to low-income Alaskans age 65 and older who are not in Pioneer Homes or other institutional care. Cash payments for the past five years have been $76, $175, or $250 each month depending on income, which is especially critical for the more than 10% of Alaskan elders who fall at or near the federal poverty line. In 2022, the program served 9,000 seniors at an average of 75 years old with the oldest participant aged 104.
The Senior Benefits Program is set to sunset in June 2024 according to state statute, and the Governor’s budget does not fund the program at all for FY25. Reauthorizing legislation is needed to extend and fund the program.
Senior & Disability Community Grants. These grants fund supportive services such as Meals on Wheels, congregate meals, transportation, light housekeeping, chore services, adult day programs, and education and respite for family caregivers that help keep seniors in their homes and communities. These grants effectively provide much needed support services to seniors and their unpaid caregivers, costing much less than assisted living or nursing home care services. Senior grant services reach nearly 20,000 older Alaskans whose incomes or assets are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to be able to afford private services.
The FY25 Governor’s budget reflects a cut to the Senior & Disability Community Grants that would result in older Alaskans losing services critical to remaining independent at home. Losing independence risks vulnerable seniors being driven to higher, more costly levels of care. AARP and other senior advocates are asking the legislature to increase the governor’s budget for senior community-based grants 13% to meet the needs of Alaska’s aging population growth and growing food insecurity. From 2013-2023, the number of meals provided under the Senior & Disabilities meals grant for older Alaskans around the state increased 13%, and the cost of food increased 27%, forcing providers to waitlist seniors or cut staff.
House Bill 149 (SB130), Nurse Licensure Compact. AARP Alaska is prioritizing the Nurse Licensure Compact bill because the current nursing shortage reduces healthcare access, drives up costs, and threatens the quality of care. This risks the health of our growing senior population and increases the burden on family caregivers. Joining this 40-state compact would help Alaska recruit and retain the nurses we badly need.
Retirement readiness is good for Alaska and good for Alaskans. Having enough savings or income to retire is consistently the top financial concern for older Alaskans. Additionally, programs that ensure a secure retirement help employers with recruitment and retention and reduce reliance on state funded public assistance.
Senate Bill 88, Public Employee Retirement Benefits. Retirement readiness for public employees means modest pension benefits. Public workers earn up to 14% less than private-sector workers. Providing a defined benefit pension helps to bridge that wage gap in the long-term and would make state jobs more competitive. As the only state without such a program, Alaska’s state services are suffering, and public access to benefits and services is threatened by staffing shortages.
Senate Bill 135, Alaska Work and Save Retirement Savings Program. Retirement readiness for private sector employees requires having access to a workplace retirement savings option. Nearly 60% of households have no assets saved for retirement. Without access to a retirement savings plan at work, nearly all workers fail to save. Only 5% of people without a workplace retirement plan save in an IRA. Nearly half of private-sector workers in Alaska don’t have access to a way to save from their regular paycheck at work.
The Alaska Work and Save program is designed to address the retirement savings gap using proven tools, such as payroll deduction. Work and Save programs are state-facilitated retirement savings options that are operated through a public-private partnership similar to a 529 college savings plan.
On behalf of Alaskans age 50-plus – as well as future generations – AARP Alaska is continuing the fight to ensure that Alaskans are empowered to choose how they live as they age.
To add your voice to our advocacy priorities and stay informed, sign up to become an e-activist at http://www.aarp.org/getinvolved
Marge Stoneking is the AARP Alaska Associate State Director for Advocacy.