Among the cuts that Governor Mike Dunleavy announced at today’s press conference was the complete elimination of the state’s senior benefits program, a $21 million cut. City of Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson, who also serves as Executive Director of Senior Citizens of Kodiak, says that this could represent a major hardship for Kodiak seniors, many of whom rely on the payments, which range from $75 to $250 per month for those over the age of 65.
She says the governor is ignoring the fact that the budget cuts affect individual lives.
“All of this plays into people’s lives. We’re not talking just about numbers here. We’re talking about people who live in Alaska, in coastal communities, who live on limited incomes. That’s what we’re talking about.”
There have been cuts to the benefit program in the past, as well as a move to make it an income-based system. But by completely eliminating the program, Branson says, many seniors may no longer be able to afford to live in Alaska.
“I don’t know how people who live on $17,000 a year can continue to afford to live in Kodiak, when they have been counting on this senior benefit,” she says.
A $3,000 PFD has been posed as the trade-off to cutting state services and benefit programs. But Branson says she hasn’t seen any evidence from the governor or the Office of Management and Budget that an extra $3,000 will bridge the income gap for seniors or others in the community affected by the cuts.
“We keep hearing that from the administration, but there’s no backup for it,” she says. “There’s no analysis for it. I don’t know where that comes from.”
Dunleavy has previously indicated he would cut the program as a way to balance the state budget. As for many of the other line-item vetoes, the administration’s written explanation for cutting senior benefits was “The State’s fiscal reality dictates a reduction in expenditures across all agencies.”