ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — In a letter addressed to the CARES Act Steering Committee, Governor Hutchinson requested the $50 million that was earmarked for the Commerce Department to help offset employers‘ increased unemployment insurance tax rates in 2021 be put on hold.
Rates are expected to increase in 2021 as they are based on 2020 unemployment claims, which grew significantly due to COVID-19.
Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said one way to possibly regain the funds would be from the $54 million in CARES Act funding that is expected to be returned, an amount stated by the Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther at Wednesday’s, December 2, CARES Act Steering Committee meeting.
Due to Wednesday’s action, the money will instead be used by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to pay for frontline workers, such as hospital employees and healthcare workers.
DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie said hospitals are dealing with the fourth day of high hospitalizations, “Today it’s 1,088 and Tuesday was 1,074.”
The DHS plan for fund distribution is based on a formula that would give each facility appropriate allocations. “We would notify everyone of the allocations on Thursday [December 3]. They would have to let us know on December 7 if money is needed, and they can disperse it by December 30,” said Gillespie. If agencies can meet this timeline, the funds would be made available by December 11.
Hospitals will get $30 million and $20 million will go to long-term facilities, according to Gillespie.
Gillespie explained there would be an audit on how the money was spent. If it’s determined the funds were used for non-eligible items the money would need to be paid back.
Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe told the committee that the state’s COVID-19 cases are going up in all three categories — hospitalizations, ventilator usage, and ICU. “A big issue is to use the money to recruit staff, especially where the staff has been poached by other states,” he said.
The CARES Act Steering Committee will meet again on December 9.