There's better way to honor state's seniors than with longevity bonus

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The governor's recent trashing of the Longevity Bonus Program points to an inherent flaw in all government entitlement programs: When the political winds change direction, you can lose your political largess with just a flick of the red pen.

Baby Boomers should take this as a warning. By 2030 it is estimated that 40 percent of a workers' salary will go to paying FICA. Now is the time to explore other options to take our retirement out of the federal government's hands.

The original Longevity Bonus Program was designed to thank our pioneers for the hard work of building this state. Beneficiaries had to be 65 years of age at the time the program was started in 1972 and had to have lived in Alaska since before statehood in 1959. This would make them 96 years old now. Obviously, given these criteria, there would be only a handful of eligible participants still living. The original program was designed to naturally end.

The program was changed to include all senior citizens, not just those who had lived in Alaska before statehood, after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1982 ruling in the Zobel case. A 1999 study by the McDowell Group, a Juneau-based research firm, found that 98 percent of seniors 75 and older received the bonus. Popular knowledge is that most of them were not here before statehood.

In a very short time, those who actually were here at statehood will have passed. We will have lost a great historical bounty, which cannot be replaced. In the meantime, some of our most deserving seniors will be facing financial problems.

As a libertarian, I look for ways to do things without the shifting sands of government handouts. Win-win situations without people stealing your money at the point of a gun (taxation) is always the best way to do things. Here's my proposal:

Interested parties would form a 501(3) c non-profit educational charity. Contributions are deductible on your income taxes. Let's call it HOPE (for Honoring Our Pre-Statehood Elders, or Helping Our Pre-Statehood Elders, or both). Contract with pre-statehood elders, using whatever criteria desired, to provide monthly oral history information in exchange for a monthly stipend. In plain English: you give them a cassette recorder and send them a tape each month. They send it back. You send them a check. Alaska gets a repository of priceless historical information for future generations and our deserving pioneers get a thank-you they can take to the bank.

Businesses and corporations could contribute to a worthwhile cause. Family members could also contribute to HOPE and end up with a nice charitable deduction at tax time while indirectly contributing to their relative's well being. Such a program would not take much to administer, if not done by bureaucrats. It could easily be handled with volunteer help from local historical societies, senior centers or AARP chapters. The scope could be limited to the criteria of the original Longevity Bonus Program, or extended to include younger pre-statehood senior citizens, depending on the response.

Either way, it fulfills the original purpose of the Longevity Bonus Program. It gives our elders an opportunity to pass on the wisdom of their years instead of receiving a handout. It would be truly the people of Alaska who thanked them, instead of some faceless, heartless government flunky.

Vicki Pate


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