On March 4, the Alaska House Health and Social Services Committee took testimony on HB 76, a measure that would extend the COVID-19 Disaster Declaration for the state. Foraker President/CEO Laurie Wolf offered this testimony on behalf of the nonprofit sector.
Thank you Representative Zulkosky and Representative Snyder.
I am Laurie Wolf, President/CEO of The Foraker Group, which serves as the state nonprofit association for Alaska and the nonprofit capacity building organization for nonprofits across the state. As the voice for the nonprofit sector, I appreciate the opportunity to speak before the committee in support of House Bill 76, extending the Disaster Declaration for Alaska.
I join my colleagues from across the state that you have heard from today and many others in support of a renewed disaster declaration to ensure that we can continue to address the public health crisis and keep our economy moving forward.
While there may be hope on our horizon, we are not there yet. To use an analogy that we can all likely relate to, ending the declaration at this point is akin to stopping your penicillin 7-day regimen three days early because you are starting to feel better. The science and experts would not support that action as it creates unnecessary risk and worse yet, we might have to start over. We simply must stick to our prescription. Alaskans are still getting sick and dying. Our nonprofits see the impacts of this pandemic every day including those you have heard from today who are on the front lines – and many others who are doing all they can to protect the public health of Alaskans. No one is untouched by this pandemic. And while we are all in the same ocean, we are not in the same boat.
Like you, we are hearing from nonprofits that need more certainty in order to meet the essential needs of all Alaskans right now. Simply put, we need to ensure the availability of wide-spread testing for Alaskans and mandatory testing of travelers into our state to protect our health and our economy. We need accessible vaccinations delivered efficiently and equitably statewide. We need the ability to provide direct health care and critical social services through telehealth, and we need to protect our food security safety net through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. All of these issues must remain a top priority if we want to focus on the intersection of public health and our economy.
I recognize that at least some of the issues in the emergency declaration are being contemplated in separate pieces of legislation in both the House and Senate. But taking each item one-by-one and day-by-day puts all Alaskans at risk unnecessarily and burdens nonprofits, local governments, and you the state who are responsible for the daily safety and care of every Alaskan. As a state, we do not have the luxury of waiting weeks or months to provide the kind of certainty through statute that we need or to continue responding to this unprecedented public health crisis. While some believe that the beneficial parts of the Disaster Declaration could be codified through the legislative process, the urgency of an immediate solution remains paramount.
To that end, I respectfully encourage you to take the necessary steps to reinstate an emergency declaration of at least 90 days that meets the needs of nonprofits and communities during this pandemic. The 90-day window will at least provide a bridge for service continuity and greater stability to the safety net that is working endless days to help Alaskans impacted by this public health crisis. This bridge also gives you as lawmakers the opportunity to codify the additional longer-term relief we all seek.
Additionally, this bridge will allow all of us to understand which of the regulations will be useful to serve Alaskans in a non-pandemic world, such as access to telehealth, flexibility in remote work, generating revenue online, and holding online meetings, to name a few.
In short, extending the disaster declaration or something substantially similar is essential in continuing to support the nonprofit sector, local governments, and all of us in not only responding to the global pandemic but in establishing a solid foundation for what we all acknowledge will be a long journey of recovery.
I urge you to act swiftly. Every day we wait we see our behavioral and physical health services in turmoil at the exact moments we need them the most.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We are certainly encouraged by the positive progress of both legislative bodies in moving forward with an extension. Foraker stands ready to support you in these efforts. I will be glad to stay on the line and answer any questions from the committee.
Thank you for your service.