Day 42: ‘People are literally starving’
"The most pro-life state in the entire country."
Good morning, Alaska. It’s Day 42 of the legislative session.
In this edition: So, how’s the state’s food stamp backlog going? “People are literally starving,” Ron Meehan, the Food Bank of Alaska’s policy and advocacy manager, told the Anchorage Daily News in the latest look at the situation where the state’s backlog doesn’t seem to be making much progress. The daily schedule. Also follow-up covering some interesting points raised by readers about the analysis of the state’s retirement system heard by the Senate Finance Committee last week.
Current mood: 😡
‘People are literally starving’
“It’s no secret to anyone that I’m a pro-life Governor, and my administration is ready to work with all of you over the next four years to achieve my goal to make Alaska the most pro-life state in the entire country,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the 2023 State of the State address.
The state’s failure to keep up with applications for food stamp benefits is increasingly grim as some applicants’ have reportedly gone as much as five months without a response from the state, forcing many Alaskans to scrounge for whatever sustenance they can find and others into hospitalization for malnutrition. The latest look at the situation comes from the Anchorage Daily News, which paints a particularly dire picture for people living in rural Alaska as the state’s backlog continues to drag on and charity services trying to fill the gap are stretched well beyond their limit.
“People are literally starving. They’re calling and saying ‘We have nothing.’” Ron Meehan, the Food Bank of Alaska’s policy and advocacy manager, told the ADN for the report noting that a handful of communities have reached out directly to the food bank for help, “But the reality is that there are probably far more than that experiencing this, they just don’t know how to reach us.”
While things are tough for everyone everywhere, it’s been particularly tough for those living in rural Alaska where there isn’t the same level or access to charity services like food banks. Meehan said the Food Bank is working to send what it can to those rural communities, but that it can’t keep up with demand.
It also underlines an important point with food security: that charity services like the food bank cannot serve as the backbone of the the state’s social safety net. It cannot replace the federal benefits of the food stamp program, which Meehan said provides more than 10 times as much food as typically distributed by food banks.
Meanwhile, three elders from Stebbins have been hospitalized for malnutrition, a city administrator told the paper.
“I just requested more food for our community because our people are not receiving the nutritional value,” Stebbins city administrator Daisy Lockwood Katcheak told the paper. “My elderly and my children are being impacted. My community is suffering.”
As for the response, the state hasn’t been entirely clear with what’s going on. Legislators’ questions have been met with a “we’re working on it” through emergency contracts and new hires. The state told the ADN that they’re still working on October applications, but Food Bank staff told the paper that they’re still working with clients who applied in September and have yet to hear back.
Part of the problem here is the state’s decision to end the pandemic emergency declaration in July, a largely feel-good measure for the governor’s base that also ended increased federal assistance. Under the federal pandemic legislation, applicants automatically qualified for the maximum benefits but that’s come to an end, requiring everyone be recertified starting last September (when the backlog really became a major problem).
The expiration of the emergency declaration will continue to make problems for the state. The state’s Medicaid program was also expanded during the pandemic, guaranteeing coverage for everyone who was eligible. Now they’ll also need to recertify some 260,000 Medicaid applicants with the same agency that’s already struggling to catch up on the food stamp backlog.
Why it matters: This is really bad.
The daily agenda
The Senate has HJR 6, the resolution supporting the Willow Project, on the calendar for the day. It’s also scheduled SB86, legislation that would reject the recommended pay raises for the governor and his cabinet, but that is still in Senate Finance.
The House has HB51, dealing with the transition away from bad-for-the-climate hydrofluorocarbons used as refrigerants. HJR5, a pro-fisheries pro-Southeast Alaska troll fishery resolution, is on the schedule but still currently in the Rules.
The House Education Committee hears a “State of School Districts” presentation by the Alaska Council of School Administrators at 8 a.m.
The Senate Finance Committee has a 9 a.m. confirmation hearing for Department of Revenue Commissioner-designee Adam Crum; followed by a presentation on Medicaid enrollment and spending
The House budget subcommittee on Judiciary meets at noon
The House Resources Committee meets at 1 p.m. to hear SB10, free game licenses for disabled veterans; HB49, the governor’s carbon offset program; HB50, the governor’s carbon storage legislation
The House Finance Committee meets at 1:30 to also get its confirmation hearing with Crum; then a budget overview with the Department of Transportation
House Judiciary meets at 1:30 to hear HJR2, the constitutional spending limit; HB 38, an appropriation limit (that doesn’t do anything without the constitutional amendment); HB66, the governor’s crime bill that would increase sentences for murders that involve controlled substances
Senate Judiciary meets at 1:30 for a hearing on the uniform crime report analysis by the UAA Justice Center
Senate Labor and Commerce meets at 1:30 to hear SB60, Sen. Wielechowski’s bill to repeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission (reverting those appeals to the Superior Court)
House Labor and Commerce meets at 3:15 to hear Hb73, DCCED licensing investigations
Senate Education meets at 3:30 with a State of Alaska School Districts presentation with more than a half-dozen presenters on the agenda
Senate Resources meets at 3:30 to hear from the Department of Environmental Conservation on a 404 primacy feasibility study
The Senate budget subcommittee meets at 5:30 for a budget overview
The House Ways and Means Committee meets at 6 p.m.
Some extra thoughts on the retirement study
Last week’s write-up on the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on retirement benefits got some gears for the wonks going, which raised some interesting points that I wanted to touch on here.
A matter of inequity
I biffed the explanation of the charts, explaining that the yellow columns in the charts were representative of all salaries. It’s not. It only represents the salaries comparable to the baseline assumption and all higher salaries. The takeaway here is, essentially, that things get moderately better for retirement when you make more money (Surprise!). What’s left completely unanswered here, though, is what happens to public employees making less than the baseline scenario. What happens to them?
What’s important to note in the current retirement plan is that the risk is placed on the worker. If the investment market goes south, then you’re outta luck. That means that lower-wage workers can’t really risk going in on riskier investments that have the higher returns, which means that they end up with less and the gap grows.
Miss Rose E. Scenario
As Sen. Jesse Kiehl pointed out during the hearing last week, the whole set of assumptions for how the retirement plan should operate in reality is based on some largely unrealistic assumptions about how individuals can do in the investment market. The modeling assumes 7% returns for those individuals, which if you’re keeping track is also what the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation with its team of investment professionals is expected to get in the long term. One reader said returns of 6% are a bit more realistic for an individual to achieve and that would, of course, put the performance of the current tier and its expected wage replacement rate even lower.
Another big question mark in all of this is the state wasn’t actually able to look at the actual returns of the employee accounts, which are buried in the outside management companies, or even the fees those employees are paying to those companies.
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Does ANYBODY wanna talk about how Japan's stock market collapsed in, what was it, late eighties/early nineties, and still can't be described as "recovered"? Just because HISTORICALLY returns on the stock market have been 7% isn't a guarantee. Just because we got over blips like the great depression and the recession and 2008 relatively quickly doesn't mean we will in the future. It makes me very nervous that our tier 4 retirements are at the whim of the market and I diversify every chance I get.