Governor threatens to close Pioneers Homes; residents told to prepare - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, January 24, 2020
HomePoliticsGovernor threatens to close Pioneers Homes; residents told to prepare

Governor threatens to close Pioneers Homes; residents told to prepare

Col. Bryan Radliff, 477th Fighter Group commander, speaks with a resident of Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer, Alaska on Veterans Day. F-22 pilots from the 302nd and 525th Fighter Squadron spent the day with residents before a formal ceremony, which included the presentation of nine Alaska Veterans Service medals. Governor Bill Walker has tagged the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home for closure. (Air Force photo)

The budget scare tactics have begun.

In Palmer, staff of the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home were told they may have to find another place to work in August.

On Friday, word quickly trickled out to the residents, who are among the most vulnerable of populations in the state: The Senate was closing down the home.

The Walker Administration had even circulated a memo: Get ready for closure.

Except for one pesky detail: The Senate had not made those cuts.

The Senate’s 5.7 percent cut made to the nearly $1.1 billion Health and Social Services budget was largely unallocated, meaning that cuts can come from anywhere in the department.

The Senate had asked the department to trim for less than six cents on the dollar. The Walker Administration said those cuts, which had been merely parked by the Senate as a placeholder in the budget, would remain there.

[Read: Fish and Game embarks on chickadee housing study.]

At an impromptu meeting on Friday morning, staff members of the Palmer facility were informed that the only possible way for the Department of Health and Social Services to absorb the cut to its budget by closing the home down.

Sen. Peter Micciche headed up the HSS budget subcommittee. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, left, is co-chair of Finance.

Sen. Peter Micciche was not impressed with the scare tactic. “We specifically protected seniors in the HSS budget in the subcommittee process and demanded that no cuts go to senior services. The cuts had already been adequate in their category. When the budget left the subcommittee process my expectation was that seniors would continue to be protected,” said Micciche, who chairs the HSS budget subcommittee.

“The administration is specifically using scenarios to cause fear — in the desire to arrive at an income tax. The bottom line is that we’ll fight to ensure the Pioneers Homes will continue as they have historically,” Micciche said.

Normally, an administration doesn’t strike out with fear tactics at this point in the budget process.

But a note from Anthony Newman of the Department of Health and Social Services, reiterated the department’s stance that it would likely close the Palmer Veterans and Pioneers Home, which is predominantly caring for veterans:

“Following the Senate’s action on Monday to reduce funding for the Pioneer Homes by $6,542.6, the Department sent word to its administrators that the closure of the homes was only realistic way to meet this proposed budget target. The Palmer Home would be the most likely Home to be closed because the community has other resources that could be available to residents, and the Anchorage Home could be able to take those who had no other options. Be aware that closure of one Home will not be enough to meet the budget target, so the Department is analyzing the savings that would be achieved by closing the Juneau Pioneer Home as well.”

The note went on to say the closures would begin in August and a skeleton staff would then complete shut down of the Palmer facility by October.

Copied on that note were Commissioner Valerie Davidson, and numerous HSS division directors and senior staff, as well as members of the Governor’s Office legislative liaison team.

Predictably, word leaked around the state. In Ketchikan, the city council was told the Pioneer Home could also be in peril.

Alarm bells went off in the senior services economy. After an extensive remodel in 2004 to meet U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requirements, the Palmer home was renamed the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home and gets federal assistance. Seventy-five percent of the 79 beds in the home are designated for veterans, with just 25 percent available for non-veterans. About 100 people work at the home.

Members of the Valley delegation received an email from a Palmer resident who works at the Palmer Veterans and Pioneer Home, telling of the impromptu meeting and saying that staff was told the home would close unless there was an income tax.

An income tax has been proposed by House Democrats. The Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer is in Republican country.

 

During the budget process, it’s not unheard of for an administration to use a “Statue of Liberty” strategy, named after the method employed by the U.S. Park Service. Whenever it receives a cut it shuts down the nation’s most popular monuments.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy offered to help the governor find cuts, and said he could start with lawyers, consultants, and gasline offices.

Must Read Alaska spoke to a staff member close to the Senate Finance Committee: “We did have to make cuts in the places where there is the most UGF (undesignated general funds). But we put an unallocated cut on HSS. The department heads can move that money around but they’re spinning it this way because they want us to cave.”

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican, said he could help the governor find cuts, if he needed help.

“Amazing. The governor can open up  gas pipeline offices in Tokyo and Houston, can hire an army of lawyers and pay consultants $800,000, but he throws veterans and old people to the curb? We’re not going to let that happen.” Dunleavy said.

The Valley delegation, with Rep. Cathy Tilton as strong and experienced lead on the HSS budget, is also looking at different places where the department could have made cuts. Tilton for years worked as a legislative aide to House Finance and the HSS budget was her prime responsibility.

Several of the House amendments to the HSS budget were voted down by the Democrat-led House majority, so Tilton has a starting point, although she is now in the minority caucus.

Rep. Cathy Tilton has been an advocate for seniors and says the governor isn’t being transparent.

“This hasn’t even gone through conference committee yet, so for the governor to use these scare tactics and get the residents of the Pioneers’ Homes and their families upset, is really unconscionable. And it’s not very transparent,” she said.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • TAKE THE MONEYS FROM PUBLIC ASSISTANCE FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT USE THE SYSTEM CORRECTLY!!! YOU ARE ABLE TO WORK, GO FLIP BURGERS! THIS IS CRAP!!

  • The cynicism of the Hermaphrodite Regime knows no bounds! That said, the naiveté of Republicans presenting a hostile Administration with an unallocated decrement is almost limitless as well. If you give Walker an unallocated reduction the Democrat apparatchiks in his Administration are going to talk about starving babies and dying mommies – and killing puppies if you give them the chance. When will somebody in the damned Republican Party figure out that the Administration in a Democrat Administration WILL NOT follow front end or intent language in a budget bill. If the Republicans don’t like that, they need to challenge the Democrat AGs opinion from back in Knowles that says they’re not bound by front end language.

    My math is a little rusty but I think they did an unallocated cut of $60 Million and change from a $1.1 Billion with a B budget. I’ll bet I can find Sixty Million dollars worth of waste, fraud, abuse, pet employees, funded but unfilled positions, and the vast array of Assistants to the Deputy Assistants that inhabit DHSS. Then maybe we can talk about cutting all the training, travel, workshops and junketeering for which DHSS and its clients are notorious; nobody above clerk in that department travels without a retinue. The only thing I can say to the Legislature is that they gave the Hermaphrodites the opportunity, not the Republicans need to think of something clever. I won’t hold my breath.

  • How sad Walkers administration is getting away with these scare tactics. Something needs to be done and there should be consequences for scaring and threatening the elderly and the jobs of people who are caring for our elders.

  • These men and women who live in the pioneer homes have worked thier whole lives to shape our country to be what it is today and this is thier thanks.. They should absolutely not have to worry about being displaced or not being able to see thier families because they have to move. Shame on our Governor for not protecting our elders. You too will be elderly(even more then you are now) lets hope your home will not be ripped from under neath you…
    Children and elderly are disposable in this country. This is why this country is so messed up. Politicians can live the high life at no cost, while those who have served our country in wars and by other means get everything taken away from them… Heart breaking…….who would want get old if thats what you have to look forward to…Unsecurity hmm Thanks Walker.grr

  • Yet in the meantime the govorner proceeds to “handout” Narcan gift packs to the low lifes of Alaska!!!! Which encourages drug use. If we would stop trying to help those who are addicts and allow natural selection takes it coarse…. costing the state and tax payers billions of dollars. Yet we can’t help home our senior citizens who have paid their dues and some. Honestly this is a bunch of BS

    • genevie – 1. I agree that Narcan distribution does not solve widespread opiate abuse, but…. 2. The bill allowing Narcan distribution passed the House by a 40-1 vote and the Senate by a 19-1 vote, and was later signed by Governor Walker; and 3. You’ve overstated the monetary costs… it does not cost “billions of dollars.”

    • Addict are not low life’s ! They are our family our neighbors they are real people in need of help.

  • Ms. Downing – This long time Valley resident, Vietnam veteran and old person reads your article as slanted, fear mongering, partisan spin. Further, exalting Dunleavy by quoting his budgetary comments appears to be nothing more than part of a quiet orchestrated attempt to prime the public into believing he will be a viable Republican gubernatorial candidate who will lead us to budgetary and economic salvation. Horsefeathers.

  • It is a shame when you have public officials such as this governor in Alaska use scare tactics which is far from the truth why does Alaska vote for these idiots the ig needs to send and independent accountants to check the books I’m sure they’ll find some wasteful spending someplace

  • Cut walkers pay for a year and his administration let them feel what the seniors feel for 5yrs paying for their living arrangements as is plus medical expenses etc. They seem to think its easy to cut off everyone elses form of living so why not start with their own. See how it feels to figure where to lay their heads next .

  • Genevie really low lifes! They have addictions and are real people with families who love them !!!
    Gov. Walker stop scare tactics to the elderly and the disabled!!! Cut government spending, let Mike Dunleavy show you how! He will be our next Govenor!

  • Gov. Walker would dis-loge or threaten the most vulnerable people, our elders and vets who went in harms way to protect our country. Yet state employees are driving state vehicles home for lunch. Look up the income of our top state officials and staff plus expenses ,cut them it half, it may solve the Pioneer Home and child welfare issues. If we move the capital to south central how much air fare would be saved. They need to clean their own house first.

  • elections have consequences.

  • Using the elderly like pawns and scaring them with homelessness. The commissioner for HSS should be fired

  • I don’t think the governor should be playing politics with our seniors lives by threatening to close down these pioneer homes. I hope he can rise above this sort of rhetoric in the future.

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