It's been a tumultuous few months for over 11,000 Alaskans who depend on the Senior Benefits Program.

"I never in my life thought that I would ever be asking for something like this," said 73-year-old Jaqueline Fries of Palmer.

Like Fries, many seniors budget on a fixed income. Fear of the unknown has been a catalyst for many questions since April, when it was announced that more than 4,700 older Alaskans would be temporarily removed from public assistance due to under-funding.

In June, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced more than $400 million in budget cuts via veto. Those cuts included funding to the Senior Benefits Program.

Last month the Legislature restored more than $300 million, including funding for senior benefits, in House Bill 2001. Dunleavy signed the bill on Aug. 19, promising Alaskans the senior benefits appropriation would not be vetoed again.

So what does this mean for seniors who depend on the program?

 
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"We're old, we're not crazy," said Fries, explaining the difficulty she had in finding out when she'd receive her assistance and how.

The program, which was established in 2007, provides people 65 years or older who have low to moderate income with a monthly payment. There are three tiers for the program and the Division of Public Assistance issues checks for either $76, $175, or $250, depending on income level.

The DPA says that all senior benefits will be paid retroactively for July, August, and September in a lump-sum payment on Sept. 1.

The agency says that clients who had payments suspended for May and June, will also be issued that payment amount on Sept. 1, by check or direct deposit.

While the information regarding payments has been posted on the state website for over two weeks, seniors who reached out to KTVA said they had a difficult time finding and understanding the information.

 

Sue Brogan, the chief operating officer for United Way of Anchorage, said many seniors reached out to Alaska 2-1-1, a one-stop resource for community help.

“We heard from, I don’t think 11,000, but we heard from many, many seniors from all over the state wanting to know what they were supposed to do," Brogan relayed. "What was their next step?”

That's a question Alaska 2-1-1 was able to help answer, as seniors tried to navigate day-by-day, without help they depend on.

“People were just trying to stay on top of if they are going to get money, if they have enough to pay their rent, if they have enough to buy food," Brogan said. "What would their plan B, be?”

 

If you have questions concerning benefits that may be available to you, reach out to Alaska 2-1-1 by dialing 2-1-1 on your phone or visiting Alaska211.org. This free service is confidential, and available in most languages.

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