Lowest tier of Senior Benefits Program unable to be paid in May and June

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Senior Benefits Program has insufficient funds to pay its lowest tier of benefits in May and June.

In an email sent to legislators Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services wrote that the state’s budget is not sufficient keep paying $76 per month to 4,731 Alaska seniors.

After May and June, funding for the program would be reinstated with the start of the next fiscal year. Shawnda O’Brien, the director of the Division of Public Assistance, said the Legislature fully funded the program from 2020 onward.

The Senior Benefits Program was set to sunset in 2018, but the Legislature voted to extend the program for six years. Regulations allow for the program to be suspended if the budget does not have sufficient funds.

Recipients of the benefit who would be impacted by the loss of monthly payments are being notified by the department, according to the DHSS.

Those recipients who are also eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, known as food stamps, could apply to allow for an increase in benefit payments.

There are two higher tiers of benefits, set at $175 a month for 5,124 people and $250 a month for 1,742 seniors. The email to lawmakers from DHSS says that the two higher tiers of benefits are not anticipated to be affected by the shortfall.

O’Brien said the problem emerged in February due to fluctuating enrollment numbers and the department working through a backlog of applicants. Adding new enrollees meant there was a shortage of money available.

To restore the payments before May 1, O’Brien said the Legislature could pass a supplemental budget or funds could be moved across the department. That would likely require approval from the Department of Health and Social Services commissioner, the Office of Management and Budget director, and the governor said O’Brien.

Around $800,000 would be required to pay the eligible recipients for May and June.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed FY2020 budget would eliminate the Senior Benefits Program entirely, saving the state $19.9 million annually.

Last week, House Bill 60, which would eliminate the Senior Benefits Program was held in the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee.



 
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