Steering committee created to manage federal COVID-19 funds; hospitalizations rise 44%

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 991 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (March 30) announced the creation of a 15-person steering committee to make decisions on spending an estimated $1.5 billion in federal funds the state may receive from recent federal legislation responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, $150 billion was set aside for state and local governments. Of that, $30 billion is to be made available to states and educational institutions.

Gov. Hutchinson said he signed the executive order Monday morning for the committee, which will include nine members of his administration and six Arkansas legislators. The committee will guide and shape recommendations on how to spend federal money. The governor said he has not seen details yet on how the money can be used, but said it is likely only for direct COVID-19 responses like buying personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and ventilators. He said it is not likely the money can be used to fill budget holes even if they are created by economic disruption from the pandemic.

Following are the committee members.
Larry Walther, Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration
Mike Preston, Secretary of Commerce
Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas Secretary of Health
Cindy Gillespie, Secretary of the Department of Human Services
Amy Fecher, Secretary o the Department of Transformation and Shared Services
Jami Cook, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety
Elizabeth Smith, Secretary of the Department of Inspector General
Johnny Key, Secretary of the Department of Education
Bill Gossage, representative of the Governor’s office
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View
Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville
Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock
Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia
Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne
Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock

Gov. Hutchinson also said the state is setting aside another $45 million – in addition to $30 million previously announced – to help buy PPE and other necessary supplies and equipment for Arkansas medical facilities. He said the money will come from the recently created COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund, with the money estimated to cover needs for the next 60 days.

Arkansas lawmakers on March 28 wrapped up a three-day special session to create a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund. The funding mechanism will collect money from a variety of surplus and discretionary state accounts and be available to handle special money from the federal government, if necessary.

The governor did not make an announcement about the lack of testing supplies. On Sunday he alluded to such an announcement happening soon. Two weeks ago it was estimated that new equipment at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, lab upgrades at the Arkansas Department of Health and the use of private testing labs could boost testing to around 800 a week. A lack of testing supplies has resulted in far fewer than 800 tests a week.

COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 473 as of Monday afternoon, up from 426 on Sunday. The number of deaths rose from six to seven. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 62 on Monday, a big rise from the 43 on Sunday. As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 148,089 U.S. cases and 2,599 deaths. Globally, there were 755,591 cases and 36,211 deaths.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 73 of the positive cases are among healthcare workers.

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