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Alaska House Implements Extension of Senior Benefits Program

Department of Health and Social Services

House Bill 263 was implemented this week, a bill that will extend the Alaska Senior Benefits Program through 2018. 

The Senior Benefits Program was establish in 2007.  It provides cash benefits to Alaska’s lower income seniors who are 65 years or older. The benefits come in increments of $125, $175 or $250 each month depending on the income.

Alaska representative Scott Kawasaki was one of 32 legislators that cosponsored the bill.  Kawasaki says this program was one of the main reasons he ran for office.

“The senior benefits program took place instead of the longevity bonus that was taken away from many pioneering seniors during the Murkowski era. One of the reasons why I ran was I heard grandmothers complain that this is the kind of promise that needs to be restored and we need new leadership in Juneau and that’s really one of the reasons I ran for office.”

The state of Alaska put the Longevity Bonus Program into effect in 1972.  For 18,000 seniors, the monthly check of up to $250 was created to help those in Alaska that helped build the state.  In 2003, Governor Frank Murkowski vetoed funding for the $45 million program and the program ended. 

Kawasaki says the seniors receiving the Longevity Bonus saw it as a promise made by the state.

“And it said that we will help you because you helped build the state. It was something that was very very small compensation to go to our seniors. During the Murkowski era, they cut that bonus they said that was something they no longer wanted to give. And it really meant a lot to a lot of seniors, not just because they needed the money on fixed incomes but because they saw that as a promise and a promise that was broken.”

He says he’s glad that the administration realizes the importance of seniors in Alaska.

There are currently 11,000 low to moderate income level Alaskans over the age of 65 that are expected to take advantage of the program this year.  The Senior Benefits Program was set to expire in June of 2015 but lawmakers accelerated the review to remove any impending uncertainty.