Senate Votes to Extend Senior Benefits Program

By CLAIRE STREMPLE and
JAMES BROOKS
Alaska Beacon
    The Alaska Senate voted without dissent on Wednesday to permanently extend a state program that pays up to $250 per month to poor Alaskans over 65 years old.
    The state’s Senior Benefits Payments Program had been set to expire in 2024, but Senate Bill 170, by Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, eliminates that sunset date.
    The bill also repeals the state’s longevity bonus program, which hasn’t been funded since 2003, and provided variable monthly payments to residents 65 and older, based on the amount of time they’d lived in the state.
    SB 170 passed by a 19-0 vote with Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, absent. It advances to the House for consideration.
    Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, spoke in support. She had sponsored a bill that would have extended the program through 2034. “Our seniors are treasures in our community. And they’ve invested years of work and service and they deserve dignity and respect in their final years,” she said.
    Hughes added that though churches and charities should help seniors, that aid can fall short and the government should step in. “I don’t want a senior to have to choose between — on a dark, cold winter day — having to choose between having the lights on and heat or choosing to get food and medicine.”
    Three other bills passed unanimously and without discussion on Wednesday.
    Senate Bill 104 increases funding to the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that helps poor Alaskans in civil lawsuits.
    Sen. Forrest Dunbar, D-Anchorage, the bill’s sponsor, said the corporation is attempting to serve twice as many applicants as when it was founded, but the state’s contribution to the organization has diminished. SB 104 passed on a 20-0 vote and advances to the House.
    The Senate also passed a second Dunbar bill, naming the Friday preceding Memorial Day as Alaska Veterans Poppy Day. The poppy is a symbol of veterans’ sacrifice during World War I, when poppies grew on the torn-up battlefields. Senate Bill 159, naming Alaska Veterans Poppy Day, passed 20-0 and goes to the House.
    Senators voted unanimously to rename the Aleknagik Wood River Bridge as the Raymond and Esther Conquest Bridge to honor a couple known for transporting people from Aleknagik to Dillingham, especially in cases of dire need, and were instrumental in its construction, said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who sponsored the bill that would accomplish the renaming.
    The renaming bill, Senate Bill 141, advanced by a 20-0 margin and goes to the House for consideration.
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