AARP Eye Center
By Marge Stoneking, Associate State Director - Advocacy | AARP Alaska
The 33rd Alaska Legislature concluded its first year of the two-year session on May 18th -- one day after its 121-day constitutional regular session limit. The Governor called the special session, asking the Legislature to agree to a balanced budget funding state services and permanent fund dividends (PFD) for fiscal year 2024 which begins 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 $1300 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 $2700 PFD but left the overall budget with a $600-800M 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 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 Senior 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
- 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.
The second budget items that AARP supported was a nearly $1.5 million increase in Senior 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 ten 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.
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.
AARP is supporting the following ten bills that will carry over into the 2024 legislative session:
Health & Caregiving bills:
HB149 (SB130) Nurse Licensure Compact – Joining this 40-state multistate compact would allow Alaska to put nurses to work faster in hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics statewide and to offset the nursing shortage impacting access to healthcare.
SB74 (HB137) Physical Therapy Licensure Compact – Joining this 34-state interstate compact would allow physical and occupational therapists in those other states the privilege to practice in Alaska, helping to alleviate the healthcare workforce shortage impacting access to care.
SB75 (HB138) Audiology & Speech Pathology Licensure Compact - Joining this 23-state interstate compact would allow audiologists and speech language pathologists in those other states the privilege to practice in Alaska, helping to alleviate the healthcare workforce shortage impacting access to care.
Financial Security bills:
SB88 Public Employee Retirement Benefits - Public workers earn up to 14% less than private-sector workers. Providing a defined benefit pension would help to bridge that wage gap in the long-term and would make the state jobs more attractive and competitive for employee recruitment and retention. Without such a program, state services are suffering, and public access to benefits and services is threatened by staffing shortages.
SB135 Alaska Work & Save Retirement Savings Program - Work and Save is a public-private partnership designed to address the retirement savings gap using proven tools to help workers save their own money. Senate Bill 135 establishes an auto-retirement program for workers of businesses that don’t offer retirement plans, and is similar to programs that are offered in 16 other states. Without access to a retirement savings plan at work, nearly all workers fail to save and are more likely to end up on public assistance.
SB104 (HB161) Civil Legal Services Fund – This bill revises the Civil Legal Services Fund formula so that up to 25% of Court System filing fees can be appropriated by the Legislature to the existing Civil Legal Services Fund each year to provide access to civil legal aid for low-income Alaskans with critical legal needs. Legislation allowing the legislature to appropriate filing fees for Alaska Legal Services Corporation was passed in 2018. It was originally set at 25% but lowered to 10% with the intention to reassess the need for a higher appropriation later. Those contributions are now necessary to fully support clients in need. In 2022, 42% of ALSC's clients were 50 years or older with 35% 60+.
HB145 Payday Loan Reform – This bill repeals special exclusion rules and caps APR+fees at 36% for payday loans and adds anti-evasion provision for internet lenders to protect Alaskans from predatory lending.
For more information on any of these bills, click the hyperlinked bill number or reach out to Advocacy Director Marge Stoneking at email@example.com.
Thank you for your continued support and advocacy on behalf of 50+ Alaskans. We’re making a difference!
Marge Stoneking is the Associate State Director for Advocacy at AARP Alaska. Marge has more than two decades in non-profit leadership in Alaska, with strong advocacy and volunteer engagement experience with American Lung Association and Girl Scouts. She is interested in social determinants of health and equity issues and is an active community volunteer.