Vaccinations, food assistance, could be impacted by emergency order ending

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, (KSNT) — As the state of emergency in Kansas expires, the state said efforts to boost vaccine rollout are among several areas that could take a major hit.

Without the emergency order in place, the main responsibility for distributing vaccines now falls on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Prior to lawmakers’ decision to end the order, the Kansas National Guard and Kansas Division of Emergency Management were helping take care of distributing and administering vaccines to mobile clinics across the state.

“The additional support that we were providing, personal protective equipment, for instance, additional supplies for their vaccination clinics or vaccination centers that we were pushing from the state of emergency operations center, we won’t be able to provide that support,” said Jonathan York, a branch director at the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

In an interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday, York said that the task will become more difficult with one agency bearing the weight of that responsibility, but there may still be some factors in place to assist with the load.

“Certainly, they’ll have an increased burden that they’re taking on,” York said. “One of the things that we have in place is a resource request process with the counties that they’re familiar with, so if they still need to request resources, we’ll still have that request process set up and active.”

Prior to the emergency order expiring, the governor requested an extension up to July 15. In a press release Tuesday, Kansas Senate Republican Leadership argued that the governor did not provide “adequate justification” for the need to extend the order.

“The legislature and the LCC have granted the governor every extension request over the last year, but the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 no longer necessitate a statewide disaster emergency. The governor has not provided adequate justification for the LCC to grant her request for yet another extension, and all remaining efforts related to COVID-19 can and should take place under our normal procedures. As such, the statewide disaster emergency will expire as planned.”

KANSAS SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP

According to a letter Kansas governor Laura Kelly sent to a group of lawmakers with the Legislative Coordinating Council prior to their decision, the Kansas National Guard has helped administer 122,323 vaccines. 4,360 of those being administered since May 28 of this year.  The governor said those efforts are directly tied to the emergency order.

The state said that it has also received an increasing amount of requests for vaccination sites at work locations. Up to now, those efforts have led to vaccinations for more than 40,000 Kansans.

In an interview Monday, the governor said she was ‘optimistic’ that Tuesday’s decision would lead to a different outcome. But, Tuesday morning, leaders of the Legislative Coordinating Council, cancelled their scheduled meeting , allowing the emergency order to expire.

“We need that declaration in place, so that we have the personnel necessary, the contact nurses, and the ability to use our emergency management department.”

KANSAS GOVERNOR LAURA KELLY

State vaccinations have “plateaued,” according to Kansas health officials. CDC numbers show that 40% of the state has been fully vaccinated. The state has pushed to increase vaccinations, especially among children ages 12 and up, before school starts in August.

Another area of impact is for families receiving increased food assistance, or SNAP, benefits from the federal government. The state said it’s set to lose about $14.5 million in monthly aid from the federal government. To receive increased benefits, both a state and federal emergency declaration must be in place.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families, estimated that about 63,000 households receiving SNAP benefits would be impacted by the state’s emergency order ending. Families can get up to an extra $232 per month, which officials say can make a big difference.

“They may have to make choices, such as paying their rent late or not on time, making decisions on what other bills they pay,” said Sandra Kimmons, director of Economic and Employment Services for Kansas Dept. of Children and Families.

This comes as federal offices have reported a surge in food prices. In Kansas, there were “profiteering laws” that made it possible for the public to report unjustified increases in food prices. However, as the state of emergency expires, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced that the complaint forms will no longer be in use.

“Public health issues related to the pandemic remain, but the emergency is ending,” Schmidt said. “That means ordinary laws and procedures, not emergency orders and rules, will now be fully in effect.”

The Department of Children and Families said they’ll be working to look into other programs and resources to help families receiving SNAP benefits, who are struggling to get the help they need.

The state said an “ongoing question” is how they plan to find the funding to continue with their relief effort, as they adjust to the changes.

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