Gov. Mike Dunleavy has delayed a plan to cut $7.5 million of state assistance to over 19,000 elderly and disabled Alaskans, citing complexities in reconciling state and federal regulations.

The Department of Health and Social Services notified lawmakers late Monday with a letter from the department’s legislative liaison Tony Newman.

Newman wrote the department sought to change its Adult Public Assistance program to a 1983 standard while reducing the budget. He also wrote the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told state officials Alaska had been using an incorrect calculation since 1995.

Newman told lawmakers, “To come into compliance with federal regulations, a new payment standard was required to be implemented at the same time the changes were being implemented to the 1983 payment standard with the Social Security Administration.”

The department found itself working on simultaneously drafting federal- and state-level changes by year’s end. What this means for people who qualify for the program remains uncertain.

Health and Social Services Department spokesman Clinton Bennett issued the same public statement as Newman to the Legislature.

He wrote:

“Some APA program recipients could still see an overall monetary reduction in their benefits compared to the previous calendar year as the state uses the new methodology to become compliant with CMS regulations. If there is a reduction in benefits, the exact amount is not known and will need to be recalculated on a case-by-case basis.”

Dunleavy initially sought to cut $14.7 million from the program, but after lawmakers restored the entire sum the governor vetoed $7.5 million.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, House Health and Social Services Committee co-chair Ivy Spohnholz wrote:

“Extremely disappointed that Governor Dunleavy and his team are suggesting that a federal government decision is responsible for reducing Alaskans public assistance benefits. A quick look at the public assistance budget for FY20 shows a veto of approximately $7.5 million from the public assistance budget is the real culprit.”

Last week those in the program received a letter informing them of the changes. Program recipient Michelle Kiel said she was caught off guard by the letter saying her $362 monthly payment would be cut to $262.

In an email to KTVA, Kiel wrote: “I had no voice in this, none of us did.”

Another set of letters is scheduled to be mailed this month.

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