Why Utah Remains in a State of Emergency

The information in this post was adapted from coronavirus.utah.gov.

Over the past 170 days, Utah has been under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. Governor Herbert first issued an executive order placing the state under this status on March 6. The last state of emergency expired on August 20, and as a result, the governor renewed his order this past week extending the emergency until September 19th. You can view the executive order making this change here.

Given this development, many have asked questions about what a state of emergency is and why the state has been in one for so long. Here, we outline a few key elements of states of emergency to help Utahns understand why one is needed.

What is a State of Emergency? 

A state of emergency is a legal status within Utah law that grants the government flexibility to respond to an emergency situation. On an executive level, this can involve more frequent issuing of executive orders, streamlined purchasing power under emergency procurement, and usage of the national guard. Typically these emergencies deal with fires, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. However, the language of the state code specifically includes an epidemic for why an emergency may need to be declared. 

Why Has Utah Been in One for So Long?

Unlike typical underlying reasons for instituting a state of emergency, epidemics are rarely short-lived. The nature of a disaster like the coronavirus means the problems requiring an emergency order are sustained. Though case counts are on the decline, no vaccine exists and the disease is not contained. People in Utah are still getting sick and requiring hospital care, and heightened caution is still necessary. 

What are the Benefits of Extending the State of Emergency?

Currently, all 50 states have declared emergencies as a result of COVID-19. One of the foremost reasons for this uniformity across the nation revolves around funding. Without a declared state of emergency, a state could potentially forgo millions of dollars in federal funding to assist recovery efforts. A snapshot of what those funds are in Utah include:

  • FEMA public assistance grants: Without a state of emergency, Utah’s government would lose access to $95 million. Hospitals would also not be able to access $19 million in federal reimbursements. 
  • FEMA individual assistance grants: The Utah Department of Workforce Services is requesting $445 million in the federal share of Lost Wages Assistance. No state of emergency would hinder access to these funds.
  • SBA loans for economic injury to small businesses: Utah has received over $5.2 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and $1.2 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loans. A state of emergency grants easier access to these loans.
  • Federal Title 32 cost share for the Utah National Guard: Thus far, the federal government has covered about $10 million of National Guard costs.

States of emergency are designed to be used rarely, during times of great need. Now is one of those times, where it is critical government be able to respond in a fluid and flexible manner. By remaining in a state of emergency, we have the best chance of recovery and protecting lives and livelihoods.