Kim Kovol will be the acting commissioner for the new Alaska Department of Family and Community Services which debuts Friday. (Courtesy Photo)

Kim Kovol will be the acting commissioner for the new Alaska Department of Family and Community Services which debuts Friday. (Courtesy Photo)

New state department gets new commissioner

Kim Kovol, a longtime social services worker, will head the Department of Family and Community Services

Kim Kovol, a longtime advocate for homeless people and other social services, will be the acting commissioner for the new Alaska Department of Family and Community Services which debuts Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Wednesday afternoon.

The department is the result of an executive order by the governor splitting the Department of Health and Social Services into two agencies. The newly badged Department of Health will oversee the Division of Behavioral Health, Division of Health Care Services, Division of Senior and Disabilities Service and public assistance programs such as Medicaid. The Department of Family and Community Services will oversee foster care, juvenile justice, Alaska Pioneer Homes and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Kovol, named a social services special assistant to the governor last year, has lived in Alaska for the past 26 years and worked with programs involving domestic violence, missing and murdered Indigenous people, sex trafficking, foster care and autism, among others.

“I selected Ms. Kovol to serve as the first commissioner of the new department because of her dedication and commitment to assisting Alaskan families,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “She successfully launched my administration’s People First Initiative which integrates services and collaboration between public safety, violent crime prevention and stronger support services for youth in foster care.”

Kovol will receive the standard state commissioner’s salary of $141,000, according to Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor.

She received her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and studies from San Diego State University and a Master of Social Work from University Alaska Anchorage, according to the governor’s statement.

Kovol also has been a leader at Autism Alaska, whose website profile of her notes she has three adult children, two of whom “are on the spectrum.” Before joining the Dunleavy administration she was deputy director of Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The kitchen, similar to some other services for the homeless in the city, has faced criticism by some residents and officials who say the services are disruptive for the surrounding community.

The governor’s office states Kova has “lived a traditional military family life, transferring and moving both internationally and within the Lower 48,” and is active in outdoor as well as social services activities.

“At every opportunity she has time, you can find her bow hunting (donating 100% of harvested game to local soup kitchens), riding a Harley Davidson with her beloved dog, and ‘mom-ing’ to three Alaskan born and raised children,” the statement notes.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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