From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Arkansas is closely monitoring two trend lines, as they decide how soon to begin easing up on some of the state’s social restrictions.
First of all, they are analyzing data from a recent increase in the number of people being tested for the coronavirus. When it became evident that Arkansas had enough kits, public health officials planned for a surge in testing over the past weekend. A surge in testing will cause a spike in the number of cases reported, but more importantly it gives medical professionals a clear idea of the extent of the pandemic in Arkansas. It’s basic logic. You cannot make informed decisions until you have cold, hard facts in front of you.
The other trend is happening in other states. Georgia, most of Tennessee, Texas and Missouri are beginning to loosen their restrictions on restaurants and retail stores. Arkansas is going to learn from their experience. Remember–nobody is going to allow every establishment to throw open their doors. In most cases there will be limits on the number of customers allowed inside at one time.
If other Southern states do not see a resurgence of the coronavirus, the next step is to ease restrictions on churches, shopping malls and hair salons. But health officials will be watching for any new outbreaks at every step of the way. A second wave of the pandemic would jeopardize people’s lives and thousands of jobs, and I don’t have to remind you that people need to get back to work.
The state’s unemployment trust fund paid out more than $17 million last week, which was nine times the ordinary amount. Thanks to legislative action over the past decade, our unemployment fund was healthy enough to cover the increase in jobless claims.
Other states are requesting federal loans to cover claims. Arkansas knows from experience that we definitely don’t want to go down that road. When the Arkansas economy is back on its feet, one of our first tasks in the legislature will be to replenish the unemployment trust fund.
The jobless numbers would have been even worse, but 2,500 full-time jobs and about 1,000 part-time jobs were spared because of bridge loans provided by a state program that helped about 340 Arkansas businesses. Those loans were processed within a two-week period by state employees.
I’ve heard business owners say they haven’t been able to process loan applications, but the vast majority of those complaints were caused by breakdowns in a federal loan program for small businesses. The federal Small Business Administration has been swamped by a flood of applications, and they’re upgrading their computer system to meet the demand. About 13,000 Arkansas businesses are in line for those federal loans.
It’s distressing for many business owners because the danger of going under is real. People are frustrated because it has taken so much time to get government programs up and running. It’s important to keep in mind that circumstances are going to improve, although not as quickly as we’d like.
A major reason for optimism is that nationwide, there is widespread agreement among leaders of both political parties to work together. It may not seem that way because the nightly news is full of stories about politicians fussing and fighting.
But if you look beyond the headlines, it’s obvious that Congress is getting things done. They just approved an additional $310 billion to help small businesses. It just takes time and effort to work those benefits through the pipeline.
We have the resources, we have the know-how and we have the strength. Together, we will get through this.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.