A 2011 KTOO public media story recalled that on his 100th birthday, Tlingit pastor Dr. Walter Soboleff advised the youth at the convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives - “I was in the fifth grade and the teacher said, ‘Take care, take care of the old person you’re going to become.’ And I thought what a funny talk to give us. But I never forgot it. It was one of the best messages I’ve ever heard. Take care of the old person you’re going to become. Here I am.”
This is the current notice on the state’s DHSS website: “July 1, 2019 - Under the FY 2020 budget signed by Governor Dunleavy, the Alaska Senior Benefits Payment Program will end July 1 and payments for FY2020 will not occur. With the state facing the challenge of aligning current state revenues with state expenditures, this program is being eliminated to contain costs and reduce dependence of individuals on state funds. Repealing the Senior Benefits Payment program will reduce the administrative and financial burden on state resources.”
Aside from the obvious disregard of proper notice that some poor elders will immediately and permanently lose up to 25% of their monthly income, this website notice reiterates the governor’s byline that it is to “reduce dependence of individuals on state funds.” The individuals in question ARE dependent, not because of state funds, but because age has a tendency to do this to all who live long enough. Low income seniors who are dependent will never be less dependent than they are today, and certainly not by abruptly cutting off a crucial source of financial security….without notice.
The governor says it will be a wash because they will get a larger PFD, and so it should not be a problem for these low income, vulnerable older Alaskans. However, there are some things to consider:
· Being cut off from the monthly benefit as of July 1, means these seniors must go through July, August, September, perhaps part of October, before they ever see any PFD money. While they live month to month counting every penny, we apparently now expect them to sustain the impact of losing up to $1000 before ever seeing a PFD.
· Many forgo a PFD altogether, knowing it could render them ineligible for other means-tested supports they need, like many food assistance or heating assistance programs.
· Having this significant portion of monthly income taken away can be seen as a penalty or tax targeted specifically at the poorest and oldest of Alaskans, a tax that is not levied on other Alaskans. No one else is being asked or required to give up a chunk of their income in order to receive a PFD. Why penalize or tax these, our elders who have the least to give up?
· Repealing the SBP will “reduce administrative and financial burden on state resources.” When people lose the ability to be independent in their homes and community, the next step is increasing dependence on state funds (Medicaid long term care) and/or family. The dependency will not go away, and thus it will increase administrative and financial burden, likely on the state, but also on Alaskan families who will have to take time off from or quit work, subsidize finances, and perhaps have their own health and well-being compromised as well.
· The most any SBP beneficiary receives is $250/month. If that beneficiary should lose their independence and have to move out of their home and into assisted living, the cost would be somewhere between $4000-$9000/month. Skilled nursing care (nursing home) costs close to $25,000/month in Alaska. Most often this cost is assumed by the state Medicaid program. No reduction of administrative and financial burden here.
In all of this, there is an apparent contempt for the oldest members of our community. Some call them “the aged” or “the aging.” But Governor Dunleavy is aging; the OMB director is aging; commissioners are aging; all the legislators are aging; Republicans and Democrats and unaffiliated are all aging; liberals and conservatives are all aging; people of every color and gender are aging; children are aging; the wealthy and the needy are aging; workers and business owners are aging; neighbors and friends are aging; petroleum workers and farmers are aging; doctors and mechanics are aging. In fact, nobody is not aging. All of us, every Alaskan, is aging just as fast as the other. And someday that senior who could have sustained themselves independently for a little longer with the Senior Benefit income help, that person will be you or me.
We should not turn our heads away from our elders. We should not treat them as burdensome. We should look beyond the dependencies and pay very close attention to them. We should learn everything we possibly can from them. We should take care of the old person we’re going to become.