Seniors criticize longevity bonus cut

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- About 100 senior citizens turned out at the Anchorage Senior Center Monday night to criticize Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to eliminate the state's longevity bonus program.

Longevity bonuses, started in 1972, are monthly payments of up to $250 to Alaska's senior citizens 65 and older.

Ending the bonus program this June 30 as the governor suggests would save $47 million, a big chunk of the $189 million the governor wants to cut in state programs this year.

But the cuts drew fire from seniors at the meeting, organized by AARP, a national organization that advocates for older people.

''I'm a retired fisherman,'' said John Anderson. ''I didn't have a pension.''

Anderson's wife, Madge, followed up, saying she worked a job with no benefits for years and was also without benefits and unable to afford the balanced diet prescribed by her doctor. ''I live below the poverty level. Mr. Murkowski and his offer of meals on wheels is nothing short of insulting. Shame on him.''

Mike Miller, commissioner for the state Department of Administration, was due to speak at the group's Monday night meeting, but his plane was delayed.

In an interview, Miller said court rulings changed the longevity bonus program so that it was no longer the original program honoring pre-statehood pioneers.

''The question is could some of that money be better spent,'' Miller said, for people who are on the edge financially. ''There are 100 beds not being used at the pioneers home because there isn't the funding to pay for staff.''

Other seniors said they were worried that Murkowski intends for them to go on welfare if cutting the longevity program pushes them into dire financial straits.

Mary Tomasiewicz, 74, said many would rather go without food than take what seniors see as welfare, ''because that was not the way we were raised.''

Peg Stout, AARP chapter president, asked how many people in the room volunteer. A wall of hands went up across the room.

''Sometimes people just think about how much we take,'' Stout said. ''Maybe they could think about how much we are giving too.''

House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said that support for a cut is limited but that members might be able to pass changed legislation, such as a new income-based program.

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