Arkansas’ CARES Act Steering Committee has approved of the distribution of $50 million to the state’s hospitals and nursing home facilities as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.
During a meeting on Wednesday, the committee, which is in charge of distributing the $1.25 billion the state received from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, unanimously approved of the expense. According to the request from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, $30 million of the funding will go to hospitals, while $20 million will go to nursing home facilities. All of the funds must go towards costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking during the meeting, Secretary of the Department of Human Services Cindy Gillespie said that the funding would go through a formula for distribution and that entities that do receive funding will have to keep records of their spending.
"If for some reason it is found that funds were expended on an ineligible purpose, they would have to pay those back. And if there were any federal penalties associated, they would have to pay those as well," Gillespie said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson sent a letter in support of the DHS proposal, which was read aloud during the meeting, saying "It is vital to maintain the resources and capacity of our healthcare facilities to address the increased volume of COVID-19 patients in our state."
Hutchinson also requested that the committee set aside $50 million for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, to be reconsidered at a later date instead in order to fund the request from DHS.
While the Department of Commerce already received $165 million towards the trust fund in order to stop employers from paying higher unemployment insurance tax rates, the department says another $50 million is needed to completely offset said rates for the second financial quarter. That additional $50 million was approved by the committee in November.
Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said that while the money was initially approved by the CARES Steering committee, it was ultimately held up due to the emerging need of funding towards hospitals and nursing home facilities.
"As we were seeing the increase in cases, a significant increase in hospitalizations, there was certainly [a] demand that came up related to hospitals so it was decided at that time that we need to just hold for now on that $50 million in lieu of the proposal you’ll hear from DHS," Preston said.
According to Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther, the state expects to have around $54 million in leftover federal relief funds, with $35.2 million of that funding coming as a result of state agencies returning unspent dollars.
Preston said that the $54 million the state has left, according to Walther, could ultimately go towards making up the $50 million difference in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
"This is one where, if we get down to the very end of the wire and we don’t have the ability to spend funds and some of it comes back in at the last minute, we can make the transfer at the very end of the month at the end of this year into the trust fund and that will satisfy what we need," Preston said.
The committee also approved expenditure reimbursements to some Arkansas cities and counties for a total of around $237,158. Two items requested from Bella Vista were put on hold until the next meeting. Additionally, the committee approved a request from the state Department of Labor and Licensing for an electronic licensing system, at the cost $450,000. Arkansas must spend all of its allotted funding before the end of the year.