Help Alaskan Grandparents be with their Grandkids!

Senior Benefits

The pioneering seniors of Alaska truly make this state a great place to live. For me, as a young lawmaker, it has been significant to speak with the people who lived here during transition of our territorial government; built the roads, rails and runways across our vast state; and created the small businesses that are now anchors of the community. Their legacy lives on in the halls of Juneau today.

Six years ago, I introduced HB236, to extend the Senior Benefits Program in Alaska and I am proud to carry legislation to extend the Senior Benefits Program to 2032. The current program is the successor to the Longevity Bonus, which was established in 1972 to help those pioneering seniors who helped build the state but didn’t need the added care of the Pioneers Home or assisted living. Today, we have an existing and robust structure to help assist the roles grandparents play with their grandchildren, instead of having them move south like migrating geese.

As a Finance Committee member in the House of Representatives, I took part in the statewide listening tour for seniors, caregivers, family and lawmakers. We heard from hundreds of Alaskans who passionately believe the Senior Benefits Program is vital to preserving their way of life. I firmly believe that an Alaskan who has served their community all their life deserves to maintain a good quality of life without having to sacrifice their home or health. That is what the Senior Benefits Program does, and without action, it will end this summer.

Currently, the Senior Benefits Program assists over 10,000 low-income seniors by providing modest monthly cash assistance, based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines for Alaska. As we heard from Alaskans statewide, recipients use the $76, $175 or $250 monthly payments to help pay for essential items necessary for maintaining healthy lifestyles, such as groceries, medication, transportation, rent and utilities.

During previous testimony, Senior Benefits recipients and their advocates across the state outlined how seniors and elders often are forced to cut expenses and live without services just to survive. I heard moving testimony from seniors about the stress of living on fixed incomes and how the small amount of money they are qualified to receive through the Senior Benefits Program can make the difference between a balanced meal and settling for canned food.

The Senior Benefits Program serves the pioneers who built Alaska. In part, through their efforts, we live in the richest state in the union. I firmly believe we can afford to provide a little assistance in buying household necessities. The elders and seniors who use the Senior Benefits Program are the ones who cared for us, and it’s our turn to care for them. The most un-Alaskan thing I can imagine is letting the Senior Benefits Program lapse because of political infighting or partisanship.

I fear that the ongoing fiscal crisis in Alaska might be used as an excuse to eliminate the program. As Alaskans struggle to fully recover from COVID, now is not the time to take more resources from our elders.

We have a great history and legacy of protecting our seniors in Alaska. The Senior Benefits Program is a small part of the state budget, but the program provides a big benefit to the lowest-income seniors who need assistance to help make ends meet. I plan to work closely with my colleagues in the Legislature to protect our low-income seniors. Please help me convince every member of the Legislature to extend Senior Benefits by passing Senate Bill immediately.

Senator Scott Kawasaki

Alaska Senate District P

Op-Ed: The K-12 Fiscal Cliff: Who is Responsible? Everyone!

Infrastructure takes many forms, from roads and buildings to the human infrastructure that enables our systems to function. Recently, neglect of funding for Alaskan K-12 school districts has dealt a blow to public human school infrastructure from which it is increasingly difficult to recover.

Between the two of us, we have more than 70 years of experience working for Alaska K-12 school districts, advocating for programs and supporting school business officials statewide. We have seen some tough times, but due to the lack of an increase to the base student allocation (BSA) since 2017, it has become nearly impossible for school administrators to do their jobs successfully.

While the one-time funding received in recent years is appreciated, seven years is a very long time to go without a meaningful permanent state funding increase! During the pandemic, additional federal funding masked the problem, but districts have been approaching a funding cliff for several years, as that carefully allocated funding has been depleted. Notably, during this time other state departments have received increased funding to keep up with inflation, and legislators and executive branch employees have received raises, while public schools funding has fallen far behind the rate of inflation.

Without a permanent funding increase, districts are only able to try to keep things going day-to-day. It is impossible to meaningfully plan for the future without reliable funding.

Public school administrators have been asked to dance on the head of a pin to make their finances all work. Under these circumstances, any gust of wind is a disaster. Headlines over the past few weeks regarding Juneau School District reflect challenges faced by many other school districts around the state. These challenges include:

Years of budget cuts to administrative staffing, leaving bare-bones capacity to deal with complex requirements; this includes entirely new programs introduced during the COVID pandemic that added extensive workloads to business offices with no additional staff resources, which are still winding down, as well as time-consuming new state reporting.

Insufficient funding and training to implement complex software systems that take multiple years to implement.

Frequent turnover of administrative staff for which there are few or no applicants.

Constant re-work of financial plans to deal with late notice of major components of the budget, including the BSA funding level and enrollment count used for funding. For example, the legislature approved $175 million in additional funding for FY24 (the current year), but the Governor vetoed approximately $87 million in late June, without explanation. School districts that budgeted more than the amount Governor Dunleavy approved had to scramble to balance their budgets before they were due to the Department of Education and Early Development on July 15, 2023.

Collective bargaining, often with multiple unions, is an important process for school districts but it is extremely time consuming.

Business managers are not the sole decision maker relative to budget matters.

Most school districts deal with financial pressures by routinely attempting to shield “the classroom” from cuts, and this impulse is admirable. However, focusing on cuts to administrative staff cannot go on indefinitely without consequences. Hiring is difficult at all levels due to relatively low wages and a poor state retirement system; when positions go unfilled someone else must ensure compliance. Often, administrators must pick what gets done with some things not getting done. Members of the public demand transparency and accountability, yet both elements require administrative resources to deliver.

Of great concern is the out-migration of school business professionals that is occurring. There are at least five business managers that have left or are leaving K-12 within the last year. These are hard-working, ethical, and dedicated professionals who have or will quickly find work elsewhere. Others are struggling under the pressure of increasing demands. At some point they can no longer do more with less. That day is here.

School districts are dealing with the same increased costs that all Alaskans have been and are experiencing. If there is no significant change to the BSA, continued degradation to public education will continue. To address the cost of inflation alone requires a $1,413 increase to the BSA. School districts have cut and are continuing to cut their budgets to balance available revenues.

When a district reaches a crisis point in this demanding environment, no one individual is to blame. We know that our colleagues are going above and beyond, working many nights and weekends to dance on the head of a pin, on behalf of their school districts. We encourage members of the public to help make sure they have the resources necessary to provide strong K-12 public education infrastructure, which is essential to Alaska’s future.

The fiscal cliff is here. We are all responsible and we all must do something. We and others will be advocating for K-12 funding and are willing to pay an income tax.

Melody Douglas, SFO, retired CFO from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Associate Executive Director for ALASBO

Amy Lujan, SFO, MBA

Executive Director for the Alaska Association of School Business Officials (ALASBO)

Our Full Flight Schedule is returning

This week we are restoring the reliable operations that you expect from us.

Our 737-9 MAX aircraft have been returning to their regular schedules after passing rigorous inspections. They are already flying the longest routes where they are deployed most, including cross-country flights and flights between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, returning capacity on these important routes. By Friday we will be operating our full published schedule.

At Alaska, we believe that our people are the heart of our airline — and we want to express a heartfelt thank you to our remarkable team throughout our operations. Their dedication to maintaining the highest standards of safety and care is what truly sets us apart.

Our team is committed to restoring the reliability you depend on, and we apologize for the disruptions to our shipping operation this month.

Thank you for working with us. As always, please reach out with questions. 

Alaska Air Cargo

Seattle, WA

Example: 9075434113