Thirteen Democratic state governors wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this week, urging him to extend the country’s public health emergency declaration for at least another three months beyond its scheduled expiration in April.
The governors said Tuesday that they need much more time to prepare before the emergency ends. Their states have been providing a number of services and benefits during the pandemic that rely on federal resources, and those things “will take significant time to thoughtfully ramp down, phase out, or, in some cases, extend permanently,” the letter says.
The benefits include support for expanded telehealth access, extra food aid for low-income families and other programs. The declaration has also given the states more flexibility to take measures such as allowing hospitals and clinics to set up alternate treatment sites and allowing Medicaid recipients to remain enrolled without redetermining their eligibility.
The Health and Human Services Department has promised to warn states 60 days before making any change to the declaration. The governors asked in their letter for the notice period to be increased to 90 days.
Federal public health emergency declarations initially last 90 days, and can be extended for further 90-day periods. Mr. Becerra and his predecessor, Alex M. Azar II, have extended the pandemic declaration eight times since January 2020, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the country’s first coronavirus case.
The most recent extension took effect Jan. 16 and lasts until April 16. Since that date is less than 60 days away, and the administration has not sent any notice to the contrary, it seems likely that another extension is in the cards.
Kirsten Allen, the press secretary for Health and Human Services, said on Wednesday that, “consistent with our commitment since the beginning of this administration,” the department “will provide states with 60 days’ notice prior to any possible termination or expiration in the future.”
The letter to Secretary Becerra was signed by the governors of the three West Coast states (California, Oregon and Washington); three in the Mountain West (Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada); four in the Midwest (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin); two on the East Coast (Delaware and Rhode Island); and Hawaii.
It contrasts with a recent plea by Republican representatives in Congress, who urged the Biden administration in mid-February to end the declaration, citing widening public access to vaccines and treatments as well as the social costs of extending Covid-19-related restrictions.