Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday (March 18) at least $16 million is being directed to help Arkansas businesses remain open during the economic challenges resulting from COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the ongoing pandemic outbreak of respiratory disease is caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China. It has now been detected in more than 150 locations internationally, including in the United States. The U.S. has more than 7,000 cases with 108 deaths. To date, there have been more than 179,000 reported cases of coronavirus and more than 7,400 deaths globally.
The governor, who spoke during a press conference from the Capitol, said his administration is working with state resources and will be depending on expected federal resources to help families and businesses during this “jolt to the economy.”
A big part of that is $12 million allocated from Community Development Block Grant funds to help companies, especially “hospitals and businesses essential to getting over this crisis.” Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said the list of essential businesses also include those in the supply chain that support critical businesses like food manufacturing and logistics.
Another element is releasing $4 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund – created to provide cash incentives for businesses expanding or locating operations in Arkansas – to support “bridge loans” to small businesses that need help making payroll and pay other essential costs. The loans can be up to $250,000.
Preston also encouraged Arkansas business owners to seek help from the U.S. Small Business Administration. For example, the SBA has an “Economic Injury Disaster Loan” program that allows for working capital loans of up to $2 million to help businesses suffering a temporary loss of revenue during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Link here for other SBA loan options.)
Governor Hutchinson also said that there is a child care crisis evolving from the medical pandemic. Already over 800 child care facilities have closed in Arkansas, while 1,200 remain open. Arkansas Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie outlined incentives and funding to encourage more of those child care operations to re-open.
On Tuesday, Gov. Hutchinson said the Arkansas Department of Commerce will waive the one-week waiting period to seek unemployment insurance. The governor also said the department will waive work-search requirements for 30 days, allowing unemployed to receive benefits without seeking other employment. This exception applies only to those employed by businesses temporarily closed with plans to reopen. The department is also allowing the unemployed to apply for benefits online or by telephone rather than in person to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Gov. Hutchinson also said he has asked federal government officials to give states the “maximum amount of flexibility” to use any federal dollars made available through existing and pending programs designed to help businesses nationwide during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Actions taken by Congress and the White House to help businesses and households financially impacted by COVID-19 include tax relief, healthcare benefits, and expedited unemployment benefits. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” that would provide testing, paid emergency leave to qualified employees, increased Medicaid funding and expanded unemployment insurance. The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved the measure and it now goes to the president’s desk for his signature.
U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., voted for the act.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health challenge. We must deliver necessary resources to combat the coronavirus and support hardworking Americans and families who are facing financial challenges due to this outbreak. Preventing the spread of this disease remains a priority and we know there is more that needs to be done. In the coming days the Senate will be taking further action to craft and pass a comprehensive bill to provide additional assistance directly to the American people and stabilize the economy,” Boozman said in a statement.
Link here for a list of state actions in response to COVID-19.