Last fall when Alaskans were headed to the polls to elect a governor and members of the legislature, carefully crafted and distributed talking points echoing “more cuts!” “rightsize government” campaign slogans that were long on generalities and short on details were very evident. They could be found filling your mailbox, in robocalls, newspaper ads and even in a handful of debates as some candidates tried to secure votes.
Now we see the Governor’s fiery red lines across the highly debated, but fully funded and bi-partisan- passed, budget. It is a pretty good bet that the repercussions of what those slogans would mean wasn’t clear to most voters who bought into last fall’s political rhetoric.
Nowhere did anyone say that, in order to make those promised cuts, it would start with impacting the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors and friends: our low income seniors. In fact, when asked the question about cuts to seniors, education and Medicaid, candidate Dunleavy never once said he supported any cuts to these critical parts of our state. But that was then and this is now. Regrettably, Governor Dunleavy and his administration have now decided to “greet” visitors to the state’s Senior Benefits Program’s webpage with this statement: “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”.
For the nearly 12,000 needy seniors that have hung on through the rocky legislative session it’s not altogether clear why Governor Dunleavy’s administration — without notice — stopped the regular May and June monthly Senior Benefits Program’s promised payments to low income seniors. Confused and anxious seniors were temporarily bolstered by promised funding for the missing payments in the final submittal for the 2020 legislative budget (supported by all legislators except the one lone vote against by Valley legislator, David Eastman.) But once again, the seniors who most need this modest benefit to fill the gap to help pay for their rent, food and medicine have again been kicked to the curb. And, once again, they are expected to endure with no notice and virtually no ability to recover from the lost funds.
For those readers who are lucky to have weathered the last three years of recession, have a financial cushion and may think that “dependency” on these types of programs aren’t an important part of governing, I ask that you think again. One misstep in your life, an unexpected illness or accident could change your financial picture. In fact, you might find yourself or a loved one among this group of “dependent” Alaskans; one who is unable to pull themselves up to fill the financial hole, physically able to get a job or just have better luck. Make no mistake, this lack of vision to support those who need it most will solidly land in the lap of the state and our local communities. Alaskan families will surely scramble to help them make ends meet but many more will undoubtedly join the ever-growing homeless population. It will be hard now to assure them that their state government hasn’t given up on them when they need it most.
This reckless and heartless cut to low income seniors, of which nearly 1,600 live in Matsu, will be compounded by other vetoes from our Governor. The repercussions will come down hard on our community and all over the state. Each one of us needs to make our legislators phone ring — right now — and let them know that they need to unlock horns and overturn these devastating vetoes.
Alaskans love their uniqueness but one way that we aren’t unique is that we are all getting older. The question shared by all is what kind of state do we want Alaska to be so that we can compassionately support those who need our help the most?
Terry Snyder is the AARP Volunteer State President.