State DHSS suspends thousands of senior benefits payments

Haines Senior Center. (Photo by Emily Files – KHNS)

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has suspended payments for some recipients of the state’s Senior Benefits Program due to a lack of funding.

The program provides a monthly check for seniors with moderate to low incomes. Over 11,000 seniors statewide receive this benefit — 87 of them live in Haines.

According to Public Assistance Director Shawnda O’Brien, the Senior Benefits Program is divided into three payment tiers based on beneficiaries’ income.

“The lowest payment tier, which is paid out to the recipients with the higher income brackets is the payment tier that gets reduced when funding isn’t sufficient to fully fund the program,” O’Brien said.

Recipients in the highest income bracket are eligible to receive $76 per month, but they won’t be receiving those payments for May and June.

O’Brien said that the Department of Health and Social Services is around $800,000 short. She attributes this to changes in the number of seniors in the higher payment tiers.

“There’s been a little bit of a shift between the people who are eligible at the highest payment category versus the ones that are at the lowest payment category,” O’Brien said. “We’ve also had payments being made retroactively to recipients who applied for the program whose eligibility hadn’t been determined timely. Some of those types of things have also contributed to the amount of funding being diminished more quickly.”

The future of the Senior Benefits Program is uncertain.

Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for 2020 would eliminate the program altogether. However, the budget passed Thursday by the House of Representatives would retain funding for it.

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