Thirteen senior citizens who live at Homer Senior Center facilities face eviction because of their inability to pay rent due to The State of Alaska’s elimination of the state Senior Benefits Program. KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson spoke with Pat Melone, the president of the board of directors of Homer Senior Citizens Inc.
The Homer Senior Center’s governing body, Homer Senior Citizens Incorporated, issued an official statement on July 11th. The letter states that without housing assistance 10 seniors will be evicted due to an inability to pay rent. Three seniors will be issued a 30-day notice in assisted living for inability to pay rent and food.
These numbers are not based on a formula. They represent individuals living in senior center housing for whom even the loss of the Senior Benefits Program top-tier payout of $250 will result in their eviction from Homer Senior Citizens Inc. facilities. The senior center observes HIPAA codes which guarantee the rights to a resident’s privacy and therefore will not release the names of the seniors.
"These are my neighbors, my immediate neighbors, because our senior housing is right around the corner from me and it's all of our neighbors and it's our parents and our friends and grandparents,” said Pat Melone. Melone is Homer Senior Citizens Inc. board of directors president. She signed the letter and says the board felt obligated to issue a statement.
“We have housing for seniors as well as assisted living for seniors. The budget cuts deeply impact several of the people that are renting from us or living in Assisted Living. Because of that direct impact, we felt a need to comment on the governor's vetoes,” said Melone.
The letter was sent to Alaska legislators in an effort to gather support for reinstating the benefits which officially ended July 1st, 2019. Homer Senior Citizens Inc. includes in their budget $215,000 of what they account as courtesy adjustments for assisted living, adult day care and housing. They are unsubsidized discounts for housing and food distributed based on need. Melone says that it is impossible for Homer Senior Citizens Inc. to ignore the budget cuts or make do with less and that the governor's cuts will have to be transferred to seniors.
“You know, I don't, I don't know. Some of them will have family and they might end up having to live with their family because they can't afford housing or they can afford housing and not afford a very good diet or they can afford housing but they can't afford anything else," said Melone.
The letter was sent to all state senators and representatives including local legislators, District P, Senator Gary Stevens of Kodiak and District 31 Representative Sarah Vance of Homer. Senator Gary Stevens did respond to the letter saying he will work with the legislature to do all he can to restore funding. Malone says Representative Vance's office did not respond to the letter.
This week, both houses of the Alaska Legislature passed House Bill 2001 restoring funding to the program. Senator Stevens voted Yes to restore funding and in the House of Representatives, Representative Sarah Vance cast a no vote. KBBI’s attempts to get a comment from Representative Vance, her office in Homer or the Alaska House Minority spokesperson were unsuccessful. Pat Malone says legislators need to make seniors a priority.
“These people are living on the edge. Anyway, I mean, without their senior benefits they can't afford…to live.”
The Senior Benefits Program was originally a line-item budget veto by Governor Dunleavy. The budget now goes back to Governor Dunleavy for approval. Board President Pat Melone and Homer Senior Center Executive Director Keren Kelly confirmed on Tuesday, July 30, that they already have one senior resident in arrears due to loss of benefits, but are holding off on issuing an eviction notice in hopes of the program surviving the governor's red pen.
In Homer, I'm Kathleen Gustafson