Micciche hopeful that declaration expiration won’t quash federal funding

Legislators are trying to figure out what the expiration of Alaska’s disaster declaration means for the state. 

Alaska has had disaster declarations in place since March. But the latest declaration expired this weekend when the Legislature could not organize in time to pass a bill and Gov. Mike Dunleavy did not take unilateral action to renew the order.

Some effects of that lapse are already clear. Travelers will no longer need to get tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in the state. That’s just a recommendation now. 

What’s unclear is whether this will impact the aid Alaska receives from the federal government, said Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche. On Friday, the Senate president implored Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare a new, more narrow health order for that reason.

“What we’re talking about today is, please, for God’s sake, let’s tell the governor that we need him to create a new order so that the hundreds of millions dollars that will help us put Alaskans back on their feet will come to our state,” he told the Senate.

That was before the weekend. Micciche said Monday he’s since talked to the governor’s office. 

“And their determination was that we did not need an extension or a new declaration, that we could, in fact, handle what was available and what was likely to become available from the feds without a declaration being in place,” he said.

He was referring to the CARES Act funding the state receives from the federal government. Officials question whether some of that aid will go away without a declaration. Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said the state can only access federal food stamp aid —  totaling $8 million a month — with an emergency declaration in place.

But it’s all up in the air, Micciche said, since it’s unchartered territory. The only other state that currently does not have a COVID-19 disaster declaration is Michigan. 

Micciche said officials are trying to verify that the state is right in thinking they don’t need a declaration to access funds.

“If they are correct, then we support the need to not have a declaration,” he said. “We certainly feel it’s time to begin the full economic process, while protecting Alaska from the effects of COVID.”

In addition to its economic impacts and health-related mandates, the disaster declaration waived some 200 regulations to help agencies operate under remote conditions. Dunleavy said his office is working to determine what regulations can and should still be waived.

Dunleavy has framed the expiration of the declaration as a step on the “path to normalcy.” Micciche said his conversations this weekend have made him cautiously optimistic about it all. 

“I’m not 100 percent right now in that guarantee that those funds will be free-flowing to the people of Alaska,” Micciche said. “I want to get to that point here in the next few days. But I am feeling good in that the right decision was made and that we can move forward without there being any gaps in service to the people who need them.”

He noted that the governor can declare another disaster declaration, if necessary.