An unprecedented number of Arkansans – up to 10,000 – have in recent days filed for unemployment insurance, and around 300 businesses have sought info on an emergency loan program, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state officials said during a Sunday (March 22) press conference.
Unemployment filings and loan assistance are driven by how COVID-19 has significantly disrupted economic activity globally.
COVID-19 cases in Arkansas rose from 118 on Saturday to 165 on Sunday, with 119 persons under investigation and 517 people being monitored because of a possible risk. Three Arkansas counties posted double-digit cases – Pulaski (52), Cleburne (25) and Jefferson (20). As of Sunday at noon, there were more than 31,000 U.S. cases and around 290 deaths, with 53% of those in two states – New York (114) and Washington (94). Globally, there were around 319,000 cases and almost 14,000 deaths.
Gov. Hutchinson said the best estimate is that 8,000 to 10,000 have filed jobless claims in the past few days.
“We anticipate that that number will continue to go up,” Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said.
Acknowledging glitches in the system, Preston said the state is working to ensure the process goes smoother for those who file online for benefits. He urged people to avoid visits to state unemployment offices to file a claim to avoid possible COVID-19 spread, and because those people are working to respond to the online claims.
He said the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has received around 300 calls and e-mails asking for info or assistance from a fund created recently to provide bridge loans to businesses. Gov. Hutchinson announced March 20 that $4 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund – created to provide cash incentives for businesses expanding or locating operations in Arkansas – would be set aside to support bridge loans to small businesses that need help making payroll and pay other essential costs. The loans can be up to $250,000. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released $3 million from a settlement fund to add to the $4 million.
Preston said those wanting more information on COVID-19 support resources for businesses should visit the state’s website created to outline the programs.
Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 44 of the 165 COVID-19 cases in Arkansas are nursing home workers and residents at Apple Creek Nursing and Rehab in Centerton, The Villages of General Baptist West in Pine Bluff and Briarwood Nursing Home and Rehab in Little Rock. Of the three, 35 residents and 6 staff are at Briarwood, and the state is in the process of testing residents and staff at the other two nursing homes.
Smith said there are some “real heroes” working in the three nursing homes and others in the state, with some workers pulling 12-hour shifts or remaining in the home when not working. He also praised the Arkansas Department of Health lab, which increased testing capacity from around 10 a day to 135 tests on Saturday.
Of the positive cases, 10 are age 18 or younger, 62 are age 65 and older, and 93 are between ages 19 and 64. Smith said 61% are female. He also said 19 patients are or have been hospitalized, 12 are or have been in an intensive care unit, and six are or have been on a ventilator.