Every week at the Alaska Pioneer Home in Juneau there is an ice cream social. But on Friday, some residents and their visitors ate their ice cream feeling anxious about their uncertain futures.
Under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget plan, the state-run Alaska Pioneer Homes where elder Alaskans live and “celebrate life through its final breath” would see a substantial rate increase. The low-cost option at the Alaska Pioneer Homes would jump from $2,588 to $3,623 monthly. The comprehensive level of care costs $6,795 per month. Under this proposal, it would rise to $15,000 per month.
“It’s quite scary for a lot of people in here,” said Marion Rider. At 91 she lives in the Pioneer Home with her husband Howard, 93.
Rider was asked what should be done. She replied, “We just don’t know.”
Her son, Brad Rider, who was visiting during the ice cream social, said the proposal to increase rates so dramatically is “disgusting.” He does not know how his parents will afford the rate increase.
“These folks are helpless,” Brad said. “It’s ludicrous. It’s their most vulnerable time.”
Phyllis Woodman, who has lived in the Juneau Pioneer Home six years, spoke to the vulnerability of herself and others.
“I just feel the increase is ridiculous. I for one cannot pay for it. It’s too far out,” Woodman said. “The idea of super-sized PFDs — our basic needs should be considered first.”
Woodman called the idea of issuing a super-sized PFD “short-sighted” and “shallow.” Many who oppose the super-size or payback dividend as outlined in Senate Bills 23 and 24 would rather see that money be spent to fund government services such as ferry system, education and Medicaid.
“I think our priorities are very wrong,” Woodman said. “I’m concerned, and I don’t know any residents who can pay that amount.”
Woodman’s friend Elanor Feerow chimed in saying, “I agree 100 percent.”
There are about 450 seniors in the state’s Pioneer Homes, which are located in Fairbanks, Palmer, Sitka, Ketchikan and Anchorage, too. It cost $64.1 million to operate the Pioneer Homes in Fiscal Year 2019. The governor actually proposed to increase funding to $79.1 million in Fiscal Year 2020. Even with the increase in funding, rates would still increase more than double for some residents.
Ben Muse was visiting his mother-in-law. He said it’s “understandable” what is being done at the Pioneer Home. He referred to the fact that rate increases at Pioneer Homes have not kept up with inflation.
“It’s a striking increase,” Muse said. “It’s really going to run down their assets.”
He said it was “nice” the Division of Pioneer Homes has guaranteed nobody would be kicked out of the Pioneer Homes.
“But I don’t know how they do that,” Muse said.
There is a $15 million assistance fund for Pioneer Home residents who cannot make payments, but it remains unclear whether that fund can keep the residents housed.
Resident Jeannette McLeod said the situation is “terrible.”
“We have no income to increase. I’m here with a limited amount of retirement money,” McLeod said. “I already spent my savings account. (My rate increase) would leave me with no money for basic necessities that are not covered by the Pioneer Home, like clothes.”
Kathryn Dupere was visiting her father.
“Somewhere along the way we lost empathy and compassion for our elders,” Dupere said. “They’ve worked here and built this state.”
Janet Henderson said her father worked very hard as a contractor so that her mother could live comfortably.
“She should not have this anxiety at 90 years old,” Henderson said. “If a rental raised prices even 50 percent, a landlord could not get away with that.”
The proposed rate increases are not final. The House Finance and its subcommittees will continue to work on this issue.
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-5528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.