ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services is the state's largest department by expenditure, and it faces the biggest cut in Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposed budget.
The governor's budget calls for a cut of $848 million - a 25 percent reduction of the department's budget.
Most of the budget reduction comes from reducing the amount of grants and benefits issued by $820 million. That cut is a more than 30 percent reduction on that line item.
Akeela, Inc. is one of many non-profits and organizations with programs funded in part by grants from DHSS. Akeela works with people across the state to overcome addition and get treatment for mental health complications.
The governor's proposed budget keeps certain grants for prevention and early intervention the same as the previous fiscal year and slightly increases the grant line amount for treatment and recovery. However, Akeela's Chief Clinical Officer, Danny Gladden, expects to see a ripple effect from the other cuts to DHSS.
"In general, folks are complex. Folks who are dealing with substance use disorder are often dealing with mental health issues that require to be treated. I mean we're talking about Alaska's most vulnerable folks," Gladden said. "So maybe they don't have direct cuts to substance use treatment, but they have cuts to services provided by OCS, or public assistance or any of the array under health and social services. Any crack in the sort of safety net that's provided opens up for people to be able to fall through."
The budget proposal calls for restructuring Medicaid within the budget through consolidation. In total, the consolidated Medicaid budget would be cut by $675 million, including state and federal funding.
"In this budget, we don't have anything that repeals Medicaid expansion, but you're talking about going forward, there may be conversations that we have with folks," Gov. Dunleavy said in his Wednesday morning announcement.
In a statement, Becky Hultberg, the President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, criticized the governor's cuts to health services.
"Hospitals will close, health care specialists will leave Alaska, and crime will continue to increase as Alaskans lose access to addiction and behavioral health treatment," Hultberg wrote. "This is a classic example of ideology taking precedent over practicality, and all Alaskans will feel the consequences."
The cuts to DHSS also include a nearly 25 percent cut to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. The governor's office said in a budget summary that privatizing the leadership at the hospital, a move announced Monday, will be cost-neutral.