A technical document posted on a state website says that many recipients of Adult Public Assistance in Alaska will see a cut in their benefits of $100 a month or so on Jan. 1, but the state has yet to announce this decision.
I asked the state Department of Health and Social Services Wednesday for comment on the matter, but received no reply.
I asked how many Alaskans will see a reduction in benefits, why this has been kept quiet by the administration and whether it will be announced to the public.
Alaskans should have had the chance to weigh in on the proposal, as this reduction is a significant one for some of the poorest people in Alaska, roughly a 10% drop in income for some.
Adult Public Assistance payments are for “needy aged, blind and disabled Alaskans to help them remain independent,” the state website says. A cut of this size will make it harder for many to remain independent.
Instead of issuing a clear statement on this cut, the change is hidden in the last column of figures of a table, a document that means nothing to people without an explanation.
To make matters worse, the state sent letters this week to recipients saying the cut is “due to the cost of living increase you will get in your Social Security benefits and a payment standard change.”
“This action is based on APA manual section 452-1,” the letter says.
The anonymous authors of the letter could not have made it more difficult to understand their plan and blame it on forces beyond the control of anyone in the Dunleavy administration, pretending that this was not a decision made by humans who work for state government.
The governor vetoed $7.5 million for Adult Public Assistance in August, with the budget office giving this meaningless statement, “Reductions align with federal flexibilities to realign payments.” While cutting benefits for most, about 1,300 residents of assisted living facilities would see an increase.
The recipients of these funds do not have political power and are unlikely to understand the bureaucracy, which makes them an easy target for unexplained cuts. The effort to sneak this through strikes me as gutless.
There has been no news coverage.
The main questions are: Who decided that the state should respond to a 1.6% Social Security cost of living increase by enacting a cost of living decrease? Who decided to change the payment standard based on APA manual section 452-1 and why?
The state manual that describes the payment calculations says that an unmarried recipient of Adult Public Assistance who collects $815 a month from Social Security will receive $250 a month under the new lower rate. A person in that situation today is getting $338 a month.
Someone who receives $783 a month in Supplemental Security Income would get $262 a month under the new plan, down from $362 a month.
A person who collects Social Security Disability Insurance of $1,075 a month would no longer be eligible for a payment under the plan.
This is no way to treat those who have the misfortune to be poor, blind, disabled or old.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history. His email address is email@example.com.