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Arkansas Looking to Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — As thousands of unemployed Arkansans continue to struggle to make ends meet, the state is considering extending the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program following the president’s executive order.

On August 8, President Trump signed an executive order allowing states to extend weekly unemployment benefits. For states that opt-in, federal funding covers $300 per week through the program. But states have the option to add another $100 per week using state funds.

On Tuesday, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce, Mike Preston, asked lawmakers to recommend appropriating $800 million to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

The $800 million would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency who is working with the Department of Labor, per the president’s executive order.

The state’s budget director, Jake Bleed, said the amount was estimated based on the number of unemployed Arkansans who would qualify for the additional PUA weekly benefit. As it stands, an Arkansan must be making at least $100 in weekly benefits to qualify for the additional $300 benefit.

On Tuesday, the state received guidance on potentially supplementing payments for those making less than the $100 minimum, allowing them to qualify for the additional federal weekly benefits, Bleed said. He presented a proposal to the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee on Tuesday that suggested Arkansas use up to $4 million of CARES Act funding to assist those Arkansans.

The committee recommended appropriating the $800 million and added provisions that allow the chairs of PEER, along with Arkansans Legislative Council, to act on an emergency basis—if the CARES Act Steering Committee recommended using up to $4 million to supplement unemployment benefits.

The Arkansas Legislative Council is set to decide on the recommendation on Friday.

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