In Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, the top item was HB 76, whether to renew the Covid disaster declaration. It was the second hearing for the bill and it included invited and public testimony.
The invited experts, including Jared Kosin of The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Association, Dr. Wlliot Burhl, a physician with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, the BIA contractor for the region, urged passing the bill.
Phil Hofstetter of Petersburg Health Center, spoke about the importance of testing at airports and said that seven Petersburg vaccinated people still got Covid, although none required hospitalization. Cara Durr, director of Public Engagement for FoodBank Alaska, said said about 34,000 Alaska families qualify for food help in the form of SNAP emergency allotments.
Lisa Aquino, CEO of Alaska Catholic Community Services, based in Anchorage focused on SNAP and food security, especially as it is important to local economies throughout Alaska. She described the importance of tele-health to Medicaid recipients in Alaska, while Laurie Wolf, President and CEO of the Foraker Group, was strident in her alignment with previous speakers.
And so it went: Numerous invited representatives from the health care establishment and well-heeled nonprofits called in and were efficient and organized.
But when it came to public testimony, there was a completely different message.
Chris Eichenlaub of Mat-Su said he was not one of the highly paid lobbyists speaking before him, and he opposes the bill. He said the money is not free, and his grandchildren would have to pay the federal debt.
“Give us the statutory PFD and people can buy their own lunch. These six-figure nonprofit people are speaking today to make sure other Alaskans get a five-cent lunch,” he said.
Mike Coons of Palmer urged “letting government get out of the way,” and Herman Morgan, of Aniak, also spoke against the bill, saying it is “destroying Alaska’s economy.” He said the tele-health claim earlier in the hearing was a farce; “We had plenty of telehealth before the Covid. Give us a $5,000 dividend and we’ll take care of ourselves.”
Kristina Bego, of Willow, said she is very much against the bill. Christine Hutchison of Kenai also spoke against the bill, saying the governor says he doesn’t need it and she hopes he will veto it. Teea Winger, of Kenai, opposed the bill and cited fiscal and economic concerns.
Willy Keppel of Quinhagak, opposed the bill, citing specific logistics challenges brought by the disaster declaration. “What we have going on out here is a travesty,” he said.
He said he took testimony spoken recently by Representative Zulkosky, stood in the post office with it, and people were insulted by that testimony – “even people who voted for Tiffany.”
Francine Reuter, of Anchorage, spoke against the bill. She said her grandparents and great grandparents didn’t come to Alaska to have the state take care of them.