by Representative Tiffany Zulkosky
March 26, 2021
Dear friends + neighbors,
I hope this finds you healthy and well. The rain and snow continue to fall periodically here in Southeast, but we are feeling the sun return with hints of spring in the air!
Budget subcommittees are concluding their work, we’ve been wrapping up work on several time-sensitive items, and legislative hearings are ramping up. Quyana for the opportunity to offer an update on the happenings here in Juneau.
Have a wonderful weekend.
Extending the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency
Today I was proud to vote YES on House Bill (HB) 76, a bill to extend the COVID-19 disaster declaration that expired on February 14.
Over the last several months, healthcare professionals, municipalities, economic development groups and non-profits have clearly and consistently stated that Alaska needs an extended disaster declaration, so we are best equipped to continue responding quickly and nimbly to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
HB 76 offers Alaska a defined set of tools that supports expanded testing (like at airports) and the efficient deployment of vaccines across the state. It continues authorization for more convenient telehealth services, and also ensures vulnerable Alaskans will continue to receive expanded SNAP benefits at a time of severe food insecurity in our region. These are all essential tools to continue healing from the harm of this pandemic.
While I share a growing sense of hope for a new day, especially with the arrival and deployment of safe and effective vaccines, we must not let our guards down. Vaccinations across Alaska are incomplete and the impact of new, highly contagious variants of COVID-19 circulating in our state are unknown.
I share the same fatigue we are all feeling. I want to hug my loved ones again. I want to travel more freely and safely. However, the quickest way to get to that reality is to continue to stay vigilant and follow the advice of healthcare experts.
HB 76 now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Health & Social Services Committee
Executive Order (EO) 119: Bifurcation of the Department of Health and Social Services
In late December, Governor Dunleavy announced his intention to introduce an Executive Order to split the Department of Health and Social Services into the Department of Health and a Department of Family and Community Services. In January, Executive Order 119 was read across in the Senate and began a 60-day timeframe for the Legislature to consider the proposal. Per the Alaska Constitution, the Executive Order would have to be rejected through a resolution passed in joint session or it would go into effect and have the rule of law.
We held numerous hearings in the Health and Social Services committee on EO 119. It became clear that the proposal for such monumental reorganization should be considered through a much more deliberative process with legislative and stakeholder input.
As was heard resoundingly in committee, the proposal was drafted with little to no meaningful stakeholder engagement. The plan would have created more bureaucracy and additional commissioner-level positions, without any evidence that essential services would lead to improved outcomes. Additionally, numerous errors and legal problems were identified within the 106 pages of the Executive Order itself.
The Health and Social Services committee introduced House Special Concurrent Resolution 1 to formally reject EO 119. In committee, HSCR 1 had bipartisan support and passed from committee with a vote of 6-1. On March 11, Governor Dunleavy withdrew EO 119 from consideration.
Although EO 119 was not a proposal I could support, it began an important conversation about the need to improve the state’s social services. I look forward to continued conversations with stakeholders and the administration on how best to improve DHSS services and outcomes in the interest of Alaskans.
Special Committee on Tribal Affairs
I am honored to continue chairing the House Special Committee on Tribal Affairs. This year, we have held numerous informational hearings. Topics have included: understanding layers of governance; the role of Tribal contracting, compacting and consultation; the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact; and the role of Tribal health in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also heard HB 10 by Representative Hannan, a bill that would preserve and protect the Unangax cemetery in Funter Bay. The bill passed from committee and moves on for consideration.
FY22 Operating Budget
This week, budget subcommittees in the House are wrapping up, voting whether to adopt or reject the Governor’s recommendations and considering amendments.
This year, I sit on the budget subcommittees that oversee the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Education and Early Development, and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
In the Health and Social Services subcommittee, I moved an amendment to fully fund the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact by adding $3.4 million to existing appropriations. The amendment was adopted, and the appropriation moves on to House Finance for consideration. I was also proud to work with my colleagues who served on the Department of Transportation subcommittee to include a recommendation in their budget for the state to appropriate funding for maintenance of the Kuskokwim Ice Road.
The budget is one of the most important things that the Legislature passes every year, and I am thankful for the opportunity to protect many of the programs that are essential to rural Alaskans. Subcommittee budgets move on to the House Finance Committee for consideration.
Tribal Health Organizations are Unsung Heroes of Alaska’s COVID-19 Response and Vaccination
Throughout the pandemic, Tribal health organizations have been essential partners in the State’s response to COVID-19. They have expanded testing, conducted contact tracing, and provided medical support to all Alaskans, regardless of beneficiary status. Thanks to the leadership and self-determination of these organizations, the quiet and diligent expansion of vaccine eligibility for Alaskans that they began at the start of the year has contributed heavily to the State’s ability in early March to expand vaccination ability across Alaska.
This week I wrote an op-ed, joined by Representatives Edgmon, Foster and Patkotak, thanking our Tribal health heroes for all the incredible work they have done.
YKHC Vaccine Sign-up
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) is offering COVID-19 vaccination throughout the YK Delta. Sign up to reserve your appointment for a free vaccine now!
Please note, completing this form will not automatically schedule you for an appointment, but you will be scheduled as vaccine doses become available. Submitting the form will add you to the list for when vaccination teams visit your village, and you should receive a call within 3 days to schedule an appointment. If possible, a date will be provided to you at this time. If you don’t have access to the internet or would like help signing up, you can call 1-800-478-6599.
Please do your part to protect yourself and your community from the spread of COVID-19 — sign up for your vaccine today!
PFD Online Applications are due March 31! The Affordable Care Act is open for enrollment through May 15, https://www.healthcare.gov/
I would love to hear from you if you have a suggestion for a legislative citation of importance to District 38! What is a citation? It is an official document expressing commendation, condolences, appreciation or congratulations to an individual or group.
There are two types of citations: “Honorarium” recognizes a person, organization, or special occasion. “In Memorium” honors someone who has recently passed away.
Please feel free to call or e-mail my office if you have any questions.
Office of Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, Alaska House District 38, 907-465-4942, [email protected].gov, Alaska State Capitol, Room 416; Juneau, Alaska 99801.