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Arkansas Governor Creates Steering Committee To Oversee Federal Pandemic Aid

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen speaking to reporters last week, announced Tuesday the creation of a panel to oversee how Arkansas spends $1.5 billion in federal pandemic assistance.
Chris Banks

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says Arkansas will receive $5 billion in federal funding as a result of the American Rescue Plan. At a press conference Tuesday, Hutchinson said some of the money will go to educational institutions, city and county governments, the Department of Human Service, and other areas that need financial assistance.

In addition, Hutchinson said the state government will receive $1.57 billion from the federal funding. He announced a 14-person steering committee will help manage how the money is spent. The committee will include eight cabinet officials, three members of the Arkansas House of Representatives, and three members of the state Senate.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” Hutchinson said. “It’s allowed to be used for capital investments as well as investments in infrastructure, and with the Health Department to be prepared for a future pandemic. This is such a unique time that it is important that we proceed through this in a planned fashion.”

Hutchinson said because Arkansas’ economy has recovered, the state will get half of the money soon, and the other half in about one or two years. Larry Walther, director of the Department of Finance and Administration, said he will ensure the funds are spent appropriately.

“This money is available to us over the next three-and-half years,” Walther said. “It actually sunsets December 31, 2024, so we don’t have to rush in right now like we did with the CARES money. If you recall, that was a very, very short period of time. So, we have time to study it, to do it right, and I’ll assure you that’ll be my objective.”

Meanwhile, the governor also announced Arkansans 12 and older are now eligible to receive the Pfizer  COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is an important news announcement so parents can make plans to vaccinate their 12 through 15-year-olds in addition to those who are 16 and above, which has been previously approved,” Hutchinson said.

While some parents may be apprehensive of getting their children vaccinated, Hutchinson said they should anticipate guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be coming soon. The state is planning to schedule mass vaccination clinics at schools to make sure every Arkansan has the opportunity to get vaccinated.

The state reported six additional deaths Tuesday from COVID-19. The Department of Health says there were no new hospitalizations, while the number of new cases increased by 233.

To set up an appointment, people can call the COVID-19 Vaccination Call Center at 1-800-985-6030.

Alexandria Brown is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She was previously a Douthit scholar who interned for KUAR News. Alexandria will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2022 in hopes of being a multimedia reporter.
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