Governor’s budget previews Dept. of Health split

The proposed FY 2023 Governor’s budget from Mike Dunleavy represents a step towards making good on his vision of splitting the Department of Health and Social Services into two departments. 

The budget, which was released on Dec. 15, includes no money for the Alaska Pioneer Homes program, Children’s Services, and Juvenile Justice through the Department of Health. Dunleavy is expected to issue an executive order creating a Health department, as well as a Department of Family and Community Services when the legislative session convenes in January, the Anchorage Daily News reported

 

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Instead, Alaska Pioneer Homes, Children’s Services Training, Front Line Social Workers, Family Preservation, Foster Care and Juvenile Justice programs would all be moved to the Department of Family and Community Services under the proposed budget. 

Moving these services, along with reductions in other services, would result in the department’s budget shrinking by roughly 20%, and a staff reduction of about 56%. 

In total, the FY 2023 budget totals about $10.9 billion across all funds, with operating, mental health and capital budget totals accounting for roughly $4.6 billion in unrestricted general funds, $912 million in designated general funds, $792 million in other state funds, and $4.6 billion in federal funding. 

On behavioral health, the budget requests $219.5 million for mental health services. Of this, nearly $158 million comes from unrestricted general funds. Some highlights include a requested $20.1 million for the alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention fund, $16.6 million for the recidivism reduction fund, and $8.3 million for the marijuana education and treatment fund. Mental Health Trust Authority authorized recipients could receive $11.5 million. 

The budget outlined accomplishments of the Department of Health in 2021, which included distributing Cares Act funding statewide to assist residential congregate care facilities through the pandemic. More than $3 million was paid out to providers in Alaska, the budget states. 

Alaska also joined the top 10 states nationwide for sequencing COVID variant tracking and in situation awareness. It also created the Governor’s Advisory Council on opioid remediation to provide recommendations to the department for the opioid settlement. 

At the same time, the state faces several challenges. This includes being the state with the fastest growing senior population in the nation for the past five years. People 60 and older are the fastest growing demographic in the state. The budget states people are living longer, and while many are healthy, the number of seniors with dementia, chronic health conditions, and behavioral health needs are increasing proportionally. 

This increase will require an increase in long-term care services and increased waiting lists for seniors who need home assistance. 

It also cited a lack of availability of trained workers for home and community-based services. Also noted were many challenges stemming from the addition of claims payment and the associated accounting, reporting, and recovery requirements for the Division of Behavioral Health. 

The 2022 legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 18, and adjourn on May 18.