Legislature approves bill to improve home care for seniors and Alaskans with disabilities

Seniors and people with disabilities who need extra care would be able to get help at home under a bill passed by the Alaska Legislature.

The state House voted 39-1 to approve Senate Bill 57 last Monday, following 17-0 approval by the Senate on April 24.

“One of the hallmarks of a society is the way that we care for those who may have a disability or who are in need of extra care,” said Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, and an advocate for the bill, which was introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration.

If the final bill is approved by the governor, SB 57 would allow the state to license individual homes as the equivalent of assisted living centers. A home would be permitted for up to two residents under normal circumstances, three with special permission.

Anchorage resident Laura Bonner testified in support of the bill, saying that she cares for an adoptive daughter who needs 24/7 care.

“She lives with me, but I’m in my seventies and eventually she will have to move to an assisted living or group home setting. SB 57 will give us more options for her future,” she said in a letter.

“It would help many families to care for their loved ones who struggle with dementia, complex medical needs for minor children or a disabled adult who can’t function on their own,” she said. “Trained direct care workers are difficult to find due to a shortage of them.”

Before their final vote in April, senators also rolled Senate Bill 106, from Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, into the bill.

Giessel’s proposal makes permanent a COVID pandemic-era measure that allows Medicaid to pay for personal care assistants, even if those assistants are the recipient’s spouse or parent.

Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, spoke in favor of that change, saying legislators heard from people who put off marriage in order to stay eligible for Medicaid assistance. If they got married, they would no longer be eligible for financial help.

Before passing SB 57 through the House, lawmakers there amended it to include part of House Bill 60. That measure was requested by the Department of Health to clean up state law after the split of the Department of Health and Social Services into separate agencies.

The Senate will have to approve that change before SB 57 goes to the governor’s desk, but no significant opposition is expected, lawmakers said.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.


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