Bridge loans to Arkansas businesses from a program created to stem job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have helped retain almost 2,500 full-time jobs and about 1,000 part-time jobs, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (April 24).
The governor is adding another $1 million to the Quick Action Loan Guaranty Program from his Quick Action Closing Fund that is used to recruit and retain jobs. He announced the program March 18 for small businesses needing help with payroll and other essential costs. The 0% interest loans can be up to $250,000 and allow for no payments of up to 12 months.
Gov. Hutchinson initially allocated $4 million for the fund, with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge adding $3 million from from the agency’s Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund. Gov. Hutchinson would add $2 million to his initial allocation, including the $1 million announced Friday.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said 246 bridge loans were made before exhausting the $8 million set aside for the program. He said the $1 million added Friday will fund about 100 pending applications.
“I appreciate the team’s hard work to turn around the loans that we did in our office in less than two weeks. To process that many was just a daunting task, but the team really knocked it out of the park to be able to do that,” Preston said.
Preston also said he is happy that Congress added more money to the Payroll Protection Protection. The $349 billion program was created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic. The funding was soon exhausted, and Congress added another $310 billion to the program.
Preston said 22,000 Arkansas businesses were approved for $2.7 billion in PPP funds. However, 13,000 businesses with applications seeking $1.1 billion were not approved when the initial round of funding was depleted. He said the added funding should reach those businesses.
Preston also said 170,000 Arkansans have filed jobless claims since the pandemic began. He said a website should be active by the end of April to provide unemployment benefits to the self-employed, freelancers and others not typically qualifying for such benefits. Money for those benefits comes from the CARES Act. Preston estimated a minimum of 125,000 Arkansans will qualify for the expanded unemployment benefit.
He also said beginning Saturday, the state’s unemployment benefits claim call center will be open 7 days a week.