COVID-19 Weekly Policy Update, Vol. 7

May 8, 2020

Policy and administrative changes continue to move quickly at the state and federal level in response to COVID-19. Arkansas Advocates for Children Families will work to keep you updated on policy news at the end of each week.

Click here to see AACF’s short-term recommendations for addressing the crisis at the state level. More pandemic-related blogs and publications are available here.

State Updates

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Over a month after the CARES Act passed allowing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig and self-employed workers, the state has begun accepting applications for the program. When asked about the delay, Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston cited two contributing factors. First, the Division of Workforce Services had to work with the Department of Finance and Administration to create a process to review self-employed workers’ tax filings to determine how much assistance they are owed. Second, a system had to be built to accept an estimated 100,000-150,000 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. That system had to connect with the much older unemployment insurance system.

Arkansas Ready for Business Grant Program 
After mistakenly opening for an hour last week before receiving approval for funding, the grant program’s website reopened on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Arkansas General Assembly’s Legislative Council approved $147 million for the grant program aimed at helping businesses cover expenses related to reopening. Originally the Legislative Council approved $55 million for the program. But the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that over 12,000 businesses applied for grants totaling over $147 million.

Expanding Access to Mental Health and Disability Care
Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved State Plan Amendment changes allowing the Arkansas Medicaid program to cover telephone and in-home visits for adults with serious mental illness to receive services from Behavioral Mental Health providers. The approval of telephone and in-home visits also applies to Developmental Disability providers of services to vulnerable children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Public Health Emergency
Governor Asa Hutchinson has extended his emergency proclamation, which was set to expire on May 21, for an additional for 45 days. At that time, he will determine if further extensions are needed. All directives connected to the proclamation will be extended until then.

Federal Supply of Test Kits and Increased Testing Goal
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has committed to giving Arkansas 90,000 kits and swabs this month, which the governor said is an ongoing monthly commitment. The state has a goal of testing 60,000 people this month. To achieve this goal, the Department of Health created a plan that will utilize county health units and the Minority Health Commission’s mobile unit for testing. The plan also includes guidance for pre-surgical testing and for testing expectant mothers in delivery.

Reopening the Economy
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce created this guide that outlines the dates that different types of businesses can reopen and links to the detailed directives that outline the rules and guidelines for reopening. This week the Governor made announcements about the reopening of places of worship, large venues, dental operations, casinos, and recreational swimming facilities. Dr. Nate Smith with the Department of Health also said that beginning Monday, the state will allow certain elective surgical procedures that had previously not been permitted.

Cases of COVID-19
You can find the most recent COVID-19 data for Arkansas, including demographic and location data, here. The updated numbers are in the middle of that webpage below “ADH COVID-19 Status Updates.” At the Cummins prison, 896 people who are incarcerated and 60 staff members have tested positive.

Federal Updates

The nation’s unemployment crisis continues to deepen. This morning, the federal Department of Labor released the unemployment numbers for April. Last month, 20.5 million people lost their jobs, taking the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent.

2020 Census
Arkansas is still falling behind the national average on response to the 2020 Census. As of Friday, Arkansas had a 53.1 percent self-response rate, compared to the national average of 58.1 percent. Arkansas Advocates has created a list of resources for your census outreach.


Workers’ Rights in Returning to Work Webinar: Legal Aid of Arkansas is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, May 13, at 4 p.m. to discuss “Workers’ Rights in Returning to Work.” You can register for the Zoom webinar or join them on their Facebook page for a Facebook Live (here’s the Facebook event). They expect it will last an hour or so, but they’ll stick around as long as needed to answer questions.

Arkansas United COVID-19 Page in Spanish: Para información sobre COVID-19 en Español

Marshallese Education Initiative COVID-19 Page in Marshallese: Ñan melele ko ikijeen COVID-19 ilo kajin Majõl

Marshallese Call-In Line: UAMS Northwest has a dedicated call-in center for people who speak Marshallese and suspect they need a COVID-19 test. Calls will be answered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The number is (479) 713-8708. UAMS has also established an interpretation line for health care providers to use if they need help serving Marshallese patients. It’s available 24 hours a day. For more information about that resource (for health providers only), contact Stacia Dean at SNDean (at) uams.edu or Betsy O’Connor at GEOconnor (at) uams.edu.

Applying for Assistance Programs: Legal Aid of Arkansas created a fact sheet breaking down how to apply for Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and unemployment benefits. A Spanish version is here. Legal Aid has also created a comprehensive guide, which is available here in Spanish.

Receiving Stimulus Payments: Arkansas Advocates created a fact sheet on how to receive the federal Economic Impact Payment from the CARES Act.

Applying for Health Care Coverage After Losing a Job: People who have lost their workplace health care coverage in the last 60 days due to the pandemic may be eligible for a marketplace qualifying health plan. You can determine your options with the Arkansas Insurance Department at 1-844-355-3262 or www.myarinsurance.com.

Guidance for those with Underlying Health Conditions: The CDC has produced these guidelines for those with underlying health conditions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Arkansas 211: 211 is a free, statewide telephone service that connects individuals in need to important community services in the state of Arkansas like food pantries, health programs, crisis intervention, shelters, and more. Just call “211.”

Bank On Arkansas+: For individuals and families without bank accounts who would like to open an account to receive federal emergency payments more quickly, Bank On Arkansas+ connects individuals with banks and credit unions that offer checking accounts that are certified safe, affordable and provide direct deposit to receive payments electronically. You can find more information here.

Applying for Unemployment Insurance: There is a new option to apply for unemployment insurance online or by phone. You can apply here.

Self-Employed Workers Unemployment Assistance: Gig and self-employed workers can now apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance here.

Applying for Medicaid, ARKids First (children’s health insurance), or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps): The Department of Human Services has made changes encouraging the public to avoid in-person visits to DHS county offices and is allowing fewer people in the lobbies at the same time, increasing wait times. People are encouraged to apply online at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or to use the phone application option by calling 1-855-372-1084. County offices will be installing drop-off boxes for paper applications. And required SNAP interviews may be conducted by phone rather than in person.

WIC (nutrition assistance program for Women, Infants and Children): Contact your county Department of Health office for information on how to apply.

Department of Health Updates: You can get the latest COVID-19 updates from the Department of Health here.

Finding a food pantry: Some pantries may be closed, so call ahead to confirm.
Arkansas Foodbank pantry map
Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas food pantry network
Harvest Regional Food Bank (Texarkana)
Food Bank of North Central Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
River Valley Regional Food Bank