Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is deeply disappointed by the Arkansas General Assembly’s refusal to pass legislation to address the surging public health crisis that has re-emerged with the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus. As we outlined in our recent comprehensive statement on the COVID-19 summer surge, we believe public health policy and Arkansas’ response to the growing COVID-19 Delta variant surge should be based on the science and data. We believe the legislature should have taken steps to repeal or amend previously passed legislation — Act 1002 (which bans state and local government officials from mandating masks) and Act 977 (which bans state and local officials from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations) — that have prevented state and local officials from taking desperately needed action to address the current public health crisis. Changes to both laws are desperately needed to protect the health and well-being of Arkansas’s children and families, especially with the re-opening of public schools and the threat the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant poses to the health of our children, their families, and school personnel. The Arkansas legislature’s failure to act during the special session is an abdication of their responsibility to help protect the health of Arkansas children and their families.
We are also deeply disappointed by the legislature’s decision to affirm the Governor’s authority and his decision to cut Arkansans off from expanded federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits at the end of June. Unfounded concerns that “generous” UI benefits might discourage employment are not borne out by the evidence. UI benefits protect the economic well-being of families who have lost employment during the pandemic, and there is no evidence of a hiring boom in states that cut UI benefits early. Choosing to pull out of federal programs takes away dollars that would likely be spent at businesses right here in Arkansas. These lifeline funds are supposed to be available until September to ensure well-being and stability.