The Arkansas Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act Steering Committee approved over $25 million in allotted federal spending to go to programs addressing food insecurity, suicide prevention for veterans and others.
The committee, which met for the second day in a row on Wednesday, authorized the spending of about $27.3 million of federal funds.
One approved program that received around $4.24 million is a housing stabilization plan for the state, which will aid families and individuals with rent assistance. The state will receive an additional $5.76 million through a Community Development Block Grant.
According to the proposal submitted to the committee, in order to qualify for the aid, a list of criteria must be met such as being an Arkansas resident, having a household income at or below 80% of the area medium income and to be unable to make payments owed due to COVID-19.
Elizabeth Smith, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of the Inspector General, commended the collaboration between lawmakers Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, and Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, and the Arkansas Department of Commerce.
"I like the way this has all worked together. You came with an issue, we were able to find additional funding for it so it reduced the need for CARES Act dollars and I appreciate that. So, congratulations, and we look forward to seeing the good work," Smith said.
A proposal that received $5 million in funding will go towards supporting veterans’ issues, including suicide prevention. Cindy Gillespie, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, spoke on the proposal, which Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, first brought to the committee for consideration Tuesday.
"We see this is as an opportunity to target a population in the state that is really struggling, always struggling, but particularly with COVID, with mental health issues and the rise in suicide. So it’s now his proposal, but his proposal in partnership with DHS and we will be working with him the details," Gillespie said.
The committee also approved a request of roughly $1.2 million from the state Department of Health for the establishment of mobile health units. The units will travel to health regions across the state to aid with screening and testing for COVID-19. ShaRhonda Love, executive director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission at the state Department of Health, spoke on the proposal.
"This proposal would support two mobile health units, [New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine] and Minority Health Commission’s unit as well as lay health workers to reach the Delta counties within the state as well as our southwest portion of the state, working with community organizations to support COVID initiatives," Love said.
Other programs and initatives that received funding include:
- $5 million in increased pre-approved funds for state departments.
- $1.862 million to the Department of Human Services in cooperation with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to go towards food insecurity.
- $8,024 to the Department of the Inspector General for a reimbursement of an already purchased medical records digital portal.
- $5 million to the Department of Human Services for “Community Outreach Investment Grants” that would go towards services in high-poverty areas to assist with COVID-19 related needs.
- $4,930,730 to go towards schools for reimbursement for meals, with another $4,930,730 to come from $20 million in already approved COVID-19 funding from the state Department of Education.
One proposal brought by the Department of Transformation and Shared Services that would focus on cyber security and data optimization for state departments did not receive a vote. Secretary Amy Fecher told the committee the department chose to hold on the request, currently estimated at around $33.5 million, and may bring it back to the committee at a later date.
Speaking about the request during a meeting Tuesday, Sen. Bond questioned whether the request from the Department of Shared Services was COVID-19 related.
"I agree that we need to update our IT infrastructure and I think that’s a choice the legislature has to make with real money, not with CARES Act money," Bond said.
The committee also authorized the transfer of around $6.6 million in unspent money from the Department of Human Services back to the state. With that funding added the state now has $87 million remaining to spend by the end of the year. The committee plans to meet again next week.