From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous financial hardship for working families and small businesses.
To soften the negative impact on the Arkansas economy, state officials are waiving regulations and making grant programs more flexible.
For example, the Quick Action Closing Fund is normally dedicated to recruiting industry and providing incentives for existing industries to expand. Now, up to $4 million from the fund will be available for bridge loans, to help mid-size companies and non-profit organizations remain open. This will prevent further job layoffs.
Another $12 million in Community Block Grant funds will be available for the same purpose.
The bridge loans can be up to $250,000 to help small businesses make payroll until the economic outlook returns to normal.
Also, the state has officially requested federal authorities to declare a disaster in Arkansas. That will free up about $2 million for loans to small businesses.
The state has streamlined the process of applying for unemployment insurance.
The Department of Workforce Services is suspending the one-week waiting period that had been required before laid off workers could apply for benefits.
Also, workers laid off due to the coronavirus won’t have to seek another job, but still still qualify for benefits.
Unemployed workers will not have to apply in person. They can apply online or by telephone.
Also, the food stamp program will suspend its work requirement through the end of April.
Another hardship for working families is the lack of child care. About 800 of the state’s 2,000 child care centers have shut down, so we set up created financial incentives for centers to remain open.
Vouchers for children from low-income families will be increased, and the renewal process for vouchers will be suspended. The limits on how many children a center can accept have been increased.
I’m not going to sugarcoat things. Arkansans are facing tough times in the next few weeks. But state officials are responding with common sense and urgency.
We will manage this outbreak, because we’re willing to pitch in and help.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and my most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.