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Legislative Updates — March 20, 2020

LITTLE ROCK – To cushion the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak on working families, the state has streamlined the process of applying for unemployment insurance.

The Department of Workforce Services, under orders from the governor, will waive the one-week waiting period that had been required of laid off workers before they could apply for unemployment.

The waiver will accelerate the payment of claims.

Another step ordered by the governor was to waive the requirement that applicants seek another job for 30 days. This waiver applies only to workers laid off from businesses that have been forced to close temporarily.

A third waiver of rules provides that unemployed workers will not have to apply in person. They can apply online or by telephone. Search for ezarc.adws to find the Workforce Services Department web page that lists the items you’ll need to file an unemployment claim.

In numerous other states, public officials have mandated the closing of restaurants and bars. In Arkansas restaurant dining rooms, bars and gyms have been closed. Restaurants can still serve take-out meals.

The state is setting up a program to provide bridge loans for small businesses, to help them stay open through the outbreak. The state will use $12 million in block grant money and as much as $4 million from its quick-action fund, which normally is used to recruit industry.

Under order of the state, the three casinos in Arkansas have closed until the end of March, affecting hundreds of employees. The casinos are in Pine Bluff, Hot Springs and West Memphis.

Concerts and shows are being canceled throughout Arkansas, and the cancellation of college sporting events has a ripple effect through the economy.

Universities and colleges are switching to online classes. Graduation ceremonies have been postponed.

That reduces demand for ancillary student services near campus, many of which are provided by private sector businesses. Dry cleaners, printing shops with copy machines, pizza joints, fast food restaurants and entertainment venues are all affected.

The Arkansas State Dental Association recommended that dentists postpone seeing patients until after March 27, if the appointments are for non-urgent care.

Arkansas is among the many states that have closed schools temporarily. Students and teachers are maintaining course work online, which highlights the need for high speed broadband access across the state. Internet connections are transmitting more data than they usually do.

Of the state’s 2,000 child care centers, about 800 have shut down. Centers that care for children from low-income families that remain open through March 27 will be reimbursed at a higher rate for the children who receive vouchers, which are a form of federal assistance.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) will suspend the renewal process for child-care vouchers for 30 days. It also will temporarily waive limits on capacity for providers.

The food stamp program, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will suspend the work requirement through the end of April.

If people apply for food stamps because they lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak, DHS will speed up its decision on their eligibility.

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