House Bill 206 provides funding to put boots on the ground
JUNEAU – In response to growing concerns over potential impacts of COVID-19 on Alaska, lawmakers today approved a budget that includes money needed to prepare for the disease which has now been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
House Bill 206, which enacts the state’s mental health budget, passed the Senate this morning on a unanimous vote. The House passed the bill an hour later, 36-to-2.
The bill dedicates $4.1 million in state funding and activates $9 million in federal money to prepare for COVID-19. This investment will allow the Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Health to temporarily hire:
- five new public health nurses;
- three nurse epidemiologists;
- one microbiologist in Fairbanks to assist with lab testing;
- one emergency manager to assist in the Emergency Operations Center.
Additionally, $1.3 million was set aside for services that transport our elders and Mental Health Trust Beneficiaries to healthcare institutions.
“Our top priority is making sure Alaskans are safe,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) said. “That’s why the Legislature acted swiftly to provide the resources needed to prepare and respond to this disease. By focusing on preventative and treatment measures before we deal with confirmed cases, we can better control COVID-19.”
“House Bill 206 puts boots on the ground and makes sure the State of Alaska has a pool of quickly accessible money for response efforts,” said Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome), a co-chair of the House Finance Committee. “This is an important first step by the Legislature to work together and make sure we’re prepared for a potential coronavirus outbreak in our state.”
Lawmakers earlier this week formed a new Emergency Response and Preparedness Committee, which will hold a meeting this afternoon. Additionally, the governor today signed an emergency declaration to prepare for and respond to COVID-19. The 30-day disaster declaration can be extended by the Legislature.
Alaska House Majority