Arkansas to commit at least $16 million to businesses impacted by COVID-19

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday, March 18 that at least $16 million is earmarked to help Arkansas businesses stay open during economic challenges resulting from COVID-19.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the ongoing pandemic outbreak of respiratory disease is caused by a new (novel) coronavirus that was first detected in China. It has now been detected in over 150 locations internationally, including the United States. The United States has more than 7,000 cases and 108 deaths. To date, more than 179,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported and more than 7,400 deaths worldwide.

The governor, who spoke at a press conference from the Capitol, said his administration was working with state resources and would depend on expected federal resources to help families and businesses during this “shock for the economy”.

A big part of that is $12 million allocated from the Community Development Block Grant funds to help businesses, specifically “hospitals and businesses critical to getting through this crisis.” Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said the list of essential businesses also includes those in the supply chain that support essential businesses such as food manufacturing and logistics.

Another element is releasing $4 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund — created to provide cash incentives to businesses that expand or set up operations in Arkansas — to support “bridging loans” to small businesses. businesses that need help with payroll and other essential costs. Loans can be up to $250,000.

Preston also encouraged Arkansas business owners to seek help from the US Small Business Administration. For example, the SBA has an “economic disaster loan” program that allows working capital loans of up to $2 million to help businesses experiencing a temporary loss of revenue during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Link here for other SBA loan options.)

Governor Hutchinson also said there was a child care crisis resulting from the medical pandemic. Already more than 800 child care centers have closed in Arkansas, while 1,200 remain open. Arkansas Department of Social Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie described incentives and funding to encourage more of these daycares to reopen.

On Tuesday, Gov. Hutchinson said the Arkansas Department of Commerce would waive the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment insurance. The governor also said the department would waive job search requirements for 30 days, allowing unemployed workers to receive benefits without seeking other employment. This exception only applies to individuals employed by temporarily closed businesses with plans to reopen. The ministry is also allowing unemployed workers to apply for benefits online or by phone rather than in person to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Governor Hutchinson also said he has asked federal government officials to give states “maximum flexibility” to use any federal dollars made available through existing and pending programs designed to help businesses nationwide during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Measures taken by Congress and the White House to help businesses and households financially impacted by COVID-19 include tax relief, health care benefits and accelerated unemployment benefits. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” that would provide testing, paid emergency leave for qualified employees, increased Medicaid funding, and expanded unemployment insurance. The US Senate approved the measure on Wednesday and it is now going to the president’s office for his signature.

American senses John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., voted for the law.

“We are facing an unprecedented public health challenge. We must provide the resources needed to fight the coronavirus and support hard-working Americans and families facing financial hardship due to this outbreak. Preventing the spread of this disease remains a priority and we know there is still much to be done. In the coming days, the Senate will take further steps to craft and pass a comprehensive bill aimed at providing additional relief directly to the American people and stabilizing the economy,” Boozman said in a statement.

Link here for a list of state actions in response to COVID-19.

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