Dunleavy withdraws executive order regarding DHSS split after debate picks up in Juneau

Signing at the Dept. of Health and Social Services headquarters in Juneau.
Signing at the Dept. of Health and Social Services headquarters in Juneau.
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 9:58 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday that his offices have notified the presiding officers in the Alaska House and Senate that he is withdrawing his executive order calling for the division of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services into two separate entities — the Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services.

The decision comes a day after the House Committee on Health and Social Services passed a special concurrent resolution rejecting the executive order. Before passing the resolution by a vote of 6-1, the committee heard from the public regarding the proposed changes.

Mike Coons, president of the Mat-Su Chapter of the Association of Mature Americans, was the only participant who called in to speak about the emergency order. He testified in favor of the measure, on behalf of his organization.

“This split will give all Alaskans a far better bang for their buck than the government, so far, has ever given us,” he said. “We support the splitting of DHSS in the manner that the governor and Commissioner Crum have done.”

Last December, DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said that the move was not about cutting costs as much as it was about being able to offer services with a more targeted focus than what is currently possible through DHSS.

In February, Crum also said that the order would not see any essential services cut.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, spoke against the split — voicing concerns over whether the process is being rushed, and whether it would disrupt departmental operations for the sake of filling new leadership roles created for a new state department.

“This proposal would guarantee we are adding top-heavy government salaries in perpetuity,” Zulkoksy said. “Cutting front line positions like public assistants, eligibility specialists and psychiatrists at API, in favor of increases to overhead expenses or leadership positions, is neither a fiscal or policy practice that I could support.”

Zulkosky also spoke about the risk of unforeseen costs if the department fails to deliver on promises to reorganize seamlessly.

Afterward, Rep. Liz Snyder, D-Anchorage, spoke in opposition of splitting DHSS, but also thanked the administration and the department for starting talks about reforming the state’s largest department.

“While we currently lack the evidence that the EO is the best path forward for the department, EO 119 started an important conversation and we need to continue having it,” she said, before urging colleagues to vote in favor of the resolution.

In a prepared statement sent via email on Thursday, Dunleavy said the state will be making revisions to the order and a revised one will be submitted to the Legislature for review.

Alaska’s News Source has reached out to the governor’s office and DHSS for further comments.

This story is developing and updates will be posted here as they become available.

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