Murkowski seeking $16 million for veterans wings at Pioneers' Homes

Posted: Friday, June 07, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski is proposing up to $16 million for the state to allow veterans to stay in Alaska Pioneers' Homes.

Murkowski amended a Senate bill Thursday to allow the state to capture federal funds and allow veterans to be housed in the state's six assisted living centers, the Republican senator said in a press statement.

The amendment would allow the state to renovate or construct new wings on its Pioneers' Homes to meet federal regulations, Murkowski said. It would also allow the state to begin collecting per diem for housing 94 elderly veterans who are currently housed in the state's homes.

Murkowski's amendment was added to a bill before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. It next goes to the floor for a vote, said Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte.

The move was not met with favor from the Knowles administration, which had been negotiating with the Veterans Administration to allow the state to house veterans.

Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, had been pushing for a measure that would allow the state to fill about 100 vacant beds in its system with veterans.

The beds are vacant because the state lacks funding to provide care for eligible residents who would live in the state's system. Knowles has called the Legislature into a June 24 special session to, among other things, consider $2.6 million in state funds to pay for the vacant beds.

State Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan said Murkowski's proposal would not fill the 100 vacant beds and would also create added state expense.

State officials were seeking a waiver from the Veterans Administration to allow veterans to be housed in the state's system.

''I think it's unfortunate that Senator Murkowski has come forward with legislation that flies in the face of what we were negotiating,'' Duncan said.

A fiscal 2003 state budget approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature also includes $250,000 to conduct a study on whether the state should have a standalone veterans home.

Murkowski, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the Aug. 27 primary, said he is opposed to a standalone facility.

Alaska and Hawaii are the only state's that do not have state-run veterans home, Murkowski said.

''However, a standalone veterans home would not meet the needs of Alaska's veterans. One facility to cover 586,000 remote square miles just won't work,'' Murkowski said in a statement.

The proposal would allow the state to provide new beds for veterans at the state's current system and not take away beds from nonmilitary Alaskans who would be eligible to live in the facilities, Murkowski said.

Murkowski said it will also enable the state to seek reimbursement for caring for veterans in the form of federal per diem payments now going to them. Last year, that would have amounted to $1.6 million, he said.

Knowles officials said they worry that Murkowski's announcement will distract lawmakers from the governor's request for state money during the special session.

Kleeschulte said that's unlikely, adding ''this has nothing to do with the $2.6 million in state funds to fill the vacant beds.''

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