The Dunleavy administration displayed an appalling lack of judgment in the tone of the letter sent to residents of the Pioneers’ Homes and their families — a political missive with the glad tidings that the most seriously ill residents of the homes could see their bills rise to $15,000 a month.
Instead of trying to reassure residents and prevent panic, the state delivered a document that repeats the same narrow talking points that every state employee promoting the Dunleavy Disaster has to chant whenever called upon for information.
The letter from Pioneers’ Home Division Director Clinton Lasley should have started with an apology.
Instead, it began with “Subject: Governor’s Honest Budget: Sustainable, Predictable, Affordable.”
“As you have all heard over the past few months, the governor fully intended on putting together a budget in which expenditures cannot exceed existing revenue,” Lasley wrote to the residents, whose average age is 87.
In truth, no one under or over the age of 87 heard about the plan by candidate Dunleavy for the largest rate increase in the history of the Pioneers’ Homes.
The increase would depend upon the level of care needed, anywhere from $1,000 a month to more than $8,000 a month.
The governor hasn’t explained why this is justified. The letter mentions that payment assistance is available to the those who can’t afford the rates, but it doesn’t make enough of the existing law that requires the state to assist people who can’t afford the monthly fees.
I’m not sure how much thought went into this plan or if the rate increase is a first step toward privatizing the homes, which may be what the temporary budget director has in mind. Dunleavy needs to speak up and visit the Pioneers’ Homes to explain himself.
He can start by issuing a cease-and-desist order to stop these bone-headed regulations before they create more stress for hundreds of families.
Current rates, which went up by 1.5 percent in 2017, range from $2,588 a month to $6,795 a month. The new rates would start at $3,623 a month for people who are independent and top out at $15,000 a month for those needing round-the-clock care.
My guess is that few residents would qualify for the low-end payments under the new five-level schedule. Residents would pay $6,569 a month for level two; $11,185 a month for level three; $13,333 a month for level four; and $15,000 a month for level five.
“To meet the expectation of a budget where expenditures cannot exceed existing revenue, I will be putting forward a regulation package in the coming days that aligns our rates with the cost of providing services,” Lasley said.
“The new rates align with the cost of providing exceptional services at our homes,” he said.
He said the increases will provide “the security you deserve because we took corrective actions today in planning for the future.”
A friend of mine whose mother is a Pioneers’ Home resident said she is having trouble sleeping. It’s no wonder.
But as I wrote here two weeks ago, I think there is no chance these rate hikes will be approved.
We need a real fiscal plan from Dunleavy, one that includes taxes, a cap on permanent fund dividends and a recognition of the value of institutions, such as the Pioneers’ Homes, that are an important part of life in Alaska.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.