Last Updated at 12:15 p.m. on Wed., March 2
Following backlash from the public regarding recent comments about Alaska’s low-income senior citizens, Rep. Lynn Gattis issued the following video response on Facebook Wednesday:
Rep. Gattis Sets the Record Straight on Senior BenefitsIn light of my recent comments about seniors being taken out of context, let me set the record straight.
Posted by Representative Lynn Gattis on Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Below: Rep. Lynn Gattis’ full interview with KTVA reporter Liz Raines, recorded Feb. 29, 2016.
Rep. Lynn Gattis says seniors who can’t afford to live in Alaska, should consider moving out of state. AARP, a senior citizens advocacy group, warns reductions in the state budget proposed last week by the House Finance Committee, which includes Gattis, may force many to leave.
“I had that in my mind that I wanted to grow old and die here in Alaska,” said Ken Helander, associate state director for AARP. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to. It frightens me to think of that.”
Alaska has the fastest growing senior population in the nation, and AARP said House members are targeting seniors with their scissors. According to calculations by the group, the Alaska House of Representatives is proposing more than $23 million in cuts to programs that will affect Alaska seniors.
Those include reductions to behavioral health grants, senior benefits, senior community-based grants, a 50-percent reduction to the adult Medicaid dental program, Alaska Pioneer Homes, general relief assistance and the elimination of the Alaska Affordable Heating Program.
On Monday, members of AARP spoke to lawmakers at the capitol, warning that taking such actions on the budget could create a generational gap in Alaska that the state’s finally starting to bridge.
“We can’t be unbalanced generationally, that’s just not right,” Helander said. “I’m concerned we’re gonna see that kind of out-migration again of people who say, ‘When I get older, there’s not what I need here.'”
Gattis said she thinks seniors might be better off elsewhere anyway.
“Alaska is a tough state for older folks to live in: slipping, falling, icy so on and so forth,” Gattis said. “So if you’re not working, on a fixed income, sometimes there are other places that are less expensive to live.”
Helander said many seniors, including himself, don’t want to leave Alaska.
“If you ask people that are aging in Alaska and their family members, I think people want to stay together, they want to live together in this beautiful place and to grow older here,” he said.
Gattis said people with families here should be able to stay in Alaska, only if they can afford it on their own. She said in tight budget times, the state has to pick and choose where to put its money, and shouldn’t “subsidize” people to stay.
“Here’s our challenge — when you lose two-thirds of your budget, where do you put the money?” Gattis asked. “Do you put it in road plowing? Do you put it in safe roads? Do you put it in police? Do you put it in fire departments? Do you put it in corrections? Do you put it in subsidizing people to stay here because that’s what they thought they wanted to do?”
Gattis said before asking her constituents to pay taxes, she wants to make sure programs in the budget are ones they’re willing to pay for.
Sen. Donald Olson said he takes the discussion on senior benefits personally.
“My mom is going to be 90 on March 9,” Olson said. “One of these days, I’m going to be 90, hope to be 90, and I’m not gonna wish that 20, 30 years ago when I was in the Senate, that I’d done something different.”
Once the House passes a budget, Olson and his Senate colleagues will take the next stab at it. Senate President Kevin Meyer said part of the right-sizing process could be adding money back into it.
“There may be situations like this where we went too far,” Meyer told reporters at a press conference Monday morning.
A report by the Alaska Commission on Aging found, as a whole, seniors are among the highest contributors to the state, accounting for at least $2.4 billion to Alaska’s economy. It called the retirement industry one of Alaska’s top economic sectors.