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3/10/15 - Senate bill would cut Medicaid costs, not expand program to Alaskans without insurance

Controlling Medicaid costs a priority
 
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Pete Kelly doesn't intend to include Medicaid expansion in the initial draft of a Medicaid reform bill. The Fairbanks Republican plans to introduce a bill this week aimed at controlling costs within the current Medicaid program. He says the bill would address things like rates.
 
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Legislators to consider changing fishery priorities 

 

Lawmakers plan to discuss a bill today that would make personal use a priority in managing state fisheries. The bill would direct the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to prioritize state fisheries for personal use when restrictions are necessary.

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One of the only two main stores in Bethel to close
 
By Ben Matheson, KYUK
 

OMNI enterprises is shutting down their large Swanson’s Grocery store in Bethel. The store occupies a brand-new building and is the only competitor for the Alaska Commercial store in Bethel. As they liquidate their inventory with a half-off sale, customers are swarming the store to take advantage of sales. But many also lament the loss to the community.

A line of customers with overflowing shopping carts stretches to the back of the store. With no parking spots left and no shopping carts remaining, Bethel resident Tiffany Tony had to borrow a long stainless steel cart from the butcher to load up on groceries.

“Everything’s 50 percent off and that’s a scary good deal,” said Tony.

Dan Laraux listed some of the items filling his cart to the brim, "Ice cream bread soap, rice, bacon, meat, candy.”

One cashier said she’s checked out people who spent $2,700.

The store will officially close Friday. Grocery Manager Steve Kenyon was loading box after box of food.

“If it stays like this, it might not last until the end of the day," said Kenyon, who plans to move back to Anchorage because of the closure.


 
"My reaction? It sucks,” said Kenyon. When asked if he knew the closure was coming, he said, "We had some inclinations, but not until the last month or so."

With the closure comes the loss of two incomes for 26-year-old Donald Roberts and his girlfriend. He worked 17 hours per week at the store and his girlfriend, age 32,  to support their 2-month-old son. He’s starting to think about a plan.

“Find another job," said Roberts. "We’re screwed, pretty much.” He says for now, his brother, who lives with him, will have to cover the $2,000 in rent he owes each month. 


 

About 80 employees work at the store including a mix of full-time and part-time staff. Swanson’s is a business of Omni Enterprises. The company is employee-owned and has store in Dillingham, Togiak, Glenallen, and Big Lake.

Swanson’s store manager Casey Cruz said the company is handing the facility back to its owner, the Bethel Native Corporation. He received a letter at 9:30 Monday morning and called a meeting of his department heads to give them the news.

“Well, we’re just doing what we do," said Cruz."And that’s all we can do. I mean it’s a corporate decision." Cruz has been with Omni for about nine years.


 

Customer Cauline Ferguson lamented the loss of the store.

“This one’s been in Bethel years and years," said Ferguson. "I knew it when the Swanson’s brothers used to run it. It’s sad to see it going.”

The closure comes less than a year after the store moved into a brand new, 20-million dollar building, owned by the Bethel Native Corporation. Omni’s corporate office had no comment. Employees at their hardware store and quick foods store said they had no plans to close.


 

The city of Bethel relies heavily on sales tax from places like Swanson’s to cover operations. Council member Mark Springer was among the noontime crowd.

“This will be a hit. This will be lost revenue," 

said Springer. "I don’t think every dollar that would have been spent here is going to continue to be spent in Bethel," he continued. "You can buy a lot of groceries online.  I think people are really going to start shopping more aggressively that way.” 

Heather Beatty, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the state is sending a rapid response team to Bethel.

“To help the affected workers access their unemployment benefits, do skills assessment," said Beatty, "and provide extra assistance with job seeking.” 

The team is set to arrive Wednesday. Swanson’s managers say the store will officially close Friday at 9 p.m. BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman said she had no comment about the future of the Swanson’s space, but said by email that the movie theater also housed in the building and owned by BNC will remain open.