Alaska Legislature

Senate advances bills to extend senior benefits, boost civil legal aid for low-income Alaskans

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate on Wednesday advanced a measure to permanently extend a benefits program for low-income seniors.

Senate Bill 170 passed unanimously from the Senate along with three other bills, including a measure that boosts free civil legal aid for low-income Alaskans, which is often used in domestic violence cases.

The state’s senior benefits program pays three tiers of payments, ranging from $76 to $250 per month. As of December of 2022, just under 9,000 older Alaskans got the payments.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, said the program provided “an amazingly small amount” to seniors 65 or older who are on strict income limits. He said low-income older Alaskans often struggle to balance high costs of energy, prescription medicines and food.

Kawasaki’s bill was originally introduced to extend the state’s senior benefits program to 2032 at a cost of roughly $25 million per year. The bipartisan Senate majority amended the measure to make the program permanent.

In 2019, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed senior benefits from that year’s budget, but he restored those payments after hearing strong and widespread public opposition. Since then, the program has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes, one of three non-majority senators, said that she encouraged churches, charities and communities to support elder Alaskans, but sometimes that was not enough and the state needed to step in, adding, “our seniors are treasures in our community.”


The Senate on Wednesday also unanimously approved Senate Bill 104. The measure would more than double state funding for the Alaska Legal Services Corp., a statewide nonprofit that provides free civil legal aid to over 13,000 low-income Alaskans per year.

The corporation reports receiving just over half of the state funding that it did in 1984, meaning it is forced to turn away 50% of applicants because of a lack of resources.

Sen. Forrest Dunbar, an Anchorage Democrat, introduced SB 140 to increase state funding for the corporation by roughly $450,000 per year on top of its annual $300,000 allotment from the state.

“Passage of this bill will help ensure that struggling Alaskans, particularly survivors of domestic violence, will have access to legal aid in times of crisis,” Dunbar said before the bill passed unanimously to the House.

Two other bills on Wednesday passed unanimously through the Senate. One would rename a bridge between Dillingham and Aleknagik in honor of Raymond and Esther Conquest; the other would establish the Friday before Memorial Day as Alaska Veterans’ Poppy Day.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at