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Axing Emergency Declaration May Hurt Idaho's Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout, Officials Say

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) and other Senate Republican leaders are backing a proposal to lift Gov. Brad Little's Emergency Declaration. Even though they say they want to preserve federal aid money, state officials say it's still at risk.

State senators are moving forward with their effort to end Idaho’s emergency declaration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though Idaho could still lose millions in federal funding if it’s passed.

Senate lawmakers have said for months that they want to preserve federal aid money while also ditching Gov. Brad Little’s emergency declaration, which they say has hurt Idaho families.

“I think it takes away the arguments of others that the Senate is not going to be serious about dealing with some of these concerns of the public,” said Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise), noting that some Idaho businesses aren't able to operate under the governor's restrictions. Little argues the vast majority of businesses are still able to open.

While terminating the declaration, the proposed resolution includes a stipulation saying it doesn’t prevent the collection of federal relief dollars.

But Brad Richy, director of Idaho’s Office of Emergency Management, said ending the declaration itself could still put that funding at risk.

“The VA support that’s being provided to the veterans’ home, the National Guard support for testing and logistics and feeding at some of the shelters is all in jeopardy,” Richy said.

It could be up to $24 million, according to state officials, who earlier this month said federal funding to school districts and local governments are also at risk.

That could also include money used to help roll out the COVID-19 vaccine across the state, which is concerning to Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise).

“Let’s not put that in jeopardy and let’s not try to settle old scores about this pandemic through this resolution,” Burgoyne said.

Some Republicans, like Sens. Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston) and Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon) also had reservations about potentially losing federal funding.

Despite those concerns, Winder and other Senate Republican leaders gave their support to the resolution, which passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday. It now heads to the full Senate.

“There are some risks involved no matter how we approach it, but we are trying to say that this needs to change,” said Winder. “We need to figure out a way to move on.”

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!