After glitch, some Alaska seniors see benefit checks cut to $8

For the next two months, about 3,800 seniors will see their monthly checks from the state’s senior benefits program cut to $8 a month. That’s down from as much as $125 in February.

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Wikimedia commons photo by Pen Waggener
Wikimedia commons photo by Pen Waggener

The $8 level isn’t permanent – it’s a correction of an overpayment caused by an accounting error, said Monica Windom, chief of policy and program development at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“There was a programming error. It should have continued at $47 but instead it issued $125 again,” Windom said. “So we were able to go in and stop the paper warrants and reissue them at the correct amount but some of the direct deposits we were not able to stop, it was too late,”

This is the third time this year the group has seen their payments change.

Nearly 12,000 Alaskans qualify for the benefits program, and payments are based on their monthly income. Last year, the legislature axed more than $3 million from the program. While the monthly benefits for 6,000 of the poorest seniors were unaffected, some low-income seniors’ benefits fell nearly 60 percent.

To deal with the loss, program managers cut the benefit checks to the seniors in the program at higher income levels. With just a few weeks notice, more than 5,000 seniors saw their payments drop from $125 a month to $47. The first batch of newly reduced checks went out in March. Then in April, $125 checks were issued again.

May and June checks will be $8.

“But altogether they will get the same amount as they would have if we had issued $47 for each month,” Windom said.

The payments are likely to change for the fourth time this year in July when the new state budget takes effect.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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