Bill linking PFD to welfare eligibility stalls

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill that could cut welfare payments to families when they receive permanent fund dividends stalled Tuesday in the House.

But Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, who sponsors the measure, said it is not dead.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 4-3 Tuesday against moving the bill on to the Finance Committee. Republican Reps. Gary Stevens of Kodiak and Peggy Wilson of Wrangell joined Democrats Joe Hayes of Fairbanks and Harry Crawford of Anchorage in voting against the bill.

Hayes said the bill would send a message to poor Alaskans that, ''You're not worthy of something that everybody gets, including the millionaire and everybody else.''

Republican Reps. Jeannette James and John Coghill of North Pole and Hugh Fate of Fairbanks voted for the bill.

Coghill said it does not take dividends away from poor families. It simply counts them as income that could disqualify people from receiving welfare.

''Everybody has to count it as income when it comes down to it,'' Coghill said.

The bill would remove a ''hold harmless'' provision that currently keeps recipients of Alaska Temporary Assistance, Native Family Assistance and general relief assistance from losing their benefits.

Under the bill, about 7,700 low-income families would become ineligible for public assistance for at least a month, said officials with the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Adult Public Assistance, which provides aid to the blind, elderly and disabled, would not be affected by the bill.

Phillips said the measure would free up about $4.6 million to be applied toward a $37 million increase in Medicaid.

James said she worried that the dividend is so generous that it draws people to Alaska.

But Hayes said, having grown up in a poor family, he finds it hard to believe people are relocating to Alaska to get permanent fund dividends.

''My family would not have driven from Baltimore to get this check,'' Hayes said. ''I don't know of any poor people that could have done that.''

Wilson said the bill would cut public assistance to 66 people in her district. Some of them use the dividend checks to catch up on bills at the end of the year, Wilson said.

Phillips, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said the measure is not dead, despite Tuesday's vote. When asked his strategy for reviving the bill, Phillips would only say, ''Stay tuned on Thursday.''

The State Affairs Committee meets again Thursday and could rescind its action.

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Phillips could have considerable leverage, if he chooses to use it, over other lawmakers. All bills must pass the Rules Committee to reach the Senate floor.

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