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Senate panel OKs bill smoothing path for governor to end public health emergency

Brandon Smith
IPB News
Without changes to state law, Indiana would lose millions in federal funding if it ended the public health emergency in place since the start of the pandemic.

Listen to the broadcast version of this story.

Gov. Eric Holcomb could end the state’s public health emergency without jeopardizing millions in federal funding under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Unlike the House’s version, the Senate bill – SB 3 – does not include anything about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The federal government increased funding for several programs during the pandemic. That includes access to Medicaid for more Hoosiers and boosts to the monthly allowance for Hoosiers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often called food stamps.

Emily Bryant represents Indiana food banks. She said that increased access is irreplaceable.

“For every one meal that our Feeding America charitable sector distributes, SNAP provides nine,” Bryant said.

The bill comes at Holcomb's request, who has indicated he wants to end the state’s public health emergency. The state is also in the midst of the worst surge of the virus since the pandemic began.

Another provision in the measure allows the state health commissioner to continue issuing standing orders that make it easier to dispense the COVID-19 vaccine to children under the age of 11. But that provision would expire March 31.

Darren Covington, representing Indiana pharmacies, worries about that end date. Pharmacists have only been able to dispense the vaccine to children under 11 because of temporary orders during the pandemic. And while a federal order extends that into 2024, Covington said many pharmacists won't give out the shots anymore because state law wouldn't allow it.

Still, some committee members balked at allowing pharmacists to give out vaccine shots to young children because they said it's important for those vaccine appointments to be tied to wellness checks by a physician.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.
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