LITTLE ROCK – State and local governments are preparing to receive a large infusion of federal aid, under the American Rescue Plan of 2021. Schools and universities in Arkansas also are receiving federal funds.
The amount of federal funding is unprecedented. State government will get $1.57 billion. The 75 counties in Arkansas will get $586 million. Arkansas cities will get about $425 million. Each city’s allocation will depend on its population. Arkansas schools are set to receive $1.25 billion. Universities and colleges will receive $363 million.
The virus has caused the deaths of almost 6,000 people in Arkansas. Almost 36,000 have contracted the virus and more than 16,000 have been hospitalized. More than 1,600 have had to be on a ventilator.
Medical bills can devastate a family’s finances. Even in households that stayed healthy, the loss of employment was a financial blow. Especially hard hit were the travel, hospitality and tourism industries.
Government entities can use ARP funds to recover from the loss of revenue caused by the pandemic. Their budgets were strained by increased demand for social services. Also, ARP funds can be spent to improve health in communities that suffered the brunt of the pandemic’s impact.
The funds can be spent to prepare for possible future pandemics, such as purchasing medical supplies and equipment, or training more people in health professions.
The funds can be spent on necessary improvements to water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. The federal money cannot be used to pay for tax cuts, and cannot be deposited in public pension systems.
The governor has appointed a 15-member steering committee to identify the most pressing needs in Arkansas, and to recommend how funds from the ARP can most efficiently be spent. The members are nine cabinet secretaries and six legislators, three from the Senate and three from the House of Representatives.
The legislature has final approval on all spending proposals by state agencies constitutional offices. Earlier this year the legislature passed Act 997 of 2021 to establish the process for submitting and getting approval of funding requests, in anticipation of the large amount of federal funding that would flow into Arkansas from the American Rescue Plan.
New District Boundaries
The Board of Apportionment held its first meeting, to plan for drawing new boundaries for the state’s four Congressional Districts. Later this year, when the U.S. Census Bureau has new numbers on population growth in Arkansas, the board will redraw the boundaries of the 35 state Senate districts and the 100 districts in the House. The population of each new district will be roughly the same.
The Board of Apportionment has three members – the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state. The Census Bureau provides new data every 10 years.
In 2010, state Senate districts had vastly different populations because of unequal growth over the previous decade.
In fast-growing northwest Arkansas a Senate district had more than 116,000 residents, while a rural area of southeast Arkansas had a district with fewer than 64,000 residents.
However, after redistricting by the Board of Apportionment, all 35 state Senate districts were close to 83,311 in population. Since 2010 similar population trends have occurred, and the Board will again equalize the population of legislative districts.