Pioneer Homes relief bill passes legislature, moves to governor's desk

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As Alaska grapples with COVID-19, Alaska lawmakers say they've approved a measure to keep Alaska seniors who live in Pioneer Homes safe and healthy.

House Bill 96 was introduced with what the House Majority said was "the goal of keeping Pioneer Homes affordable." The proposal passed the Senate Tuesday morning, 19-0, and the House finalized the bill with a 33-0 concurrence vote the same afternoon.

According to a press release from the House Majority, HB 96 makes it so that yearly Pioneer Homes rate increases cannot exceed the Social Security cost of living adjustments. The bill also raises the amount of income which residents may keep for incidental and personal expenses.

“For over a century, Alaska’s Pioneer Homes have provided basic housing for our elders – the men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to building this state,” said Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage), one of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, according to a release distributed Tuesday evening. “Our elders deserve affordable housing where they can spend their advanced years near their loved ones – their kids, grandkids, friends and neighbors – in the state they call home.”

Rate increases at the Pioneer Homes went into effect in September of 2019. Officials with the the Department of Health and Social Services said at the time the rate increases were needed to cover the actual cost of providing care to Pioneer Home residents.

“Keeping Alaska’s Pioneer Homes affordable, is imperative for the health and mental well-being of our elders, especially during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), who sponsored the bill. “Our seniors have spent their lives building Alaska, and we owe it to them to ensure a high quality of life as they age.”

The Office of the Governor said repeatedly that residents would not be forced to leave and that those unable to afford the increase would receive assistance through a state program.

HB 96 now heads to the governor’s desk, where it awaits his final approval to become law.

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