Finances were the topic of discussion during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.

During, the governor announced a distribution of $3 million from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) for the short-term bridge loan program.

“This helps the very small business person out there that might be struggling to meet payroll or to keep employees on,” Hutchinson said.

In addition, he added another $1 million had been allocated from the Quick Action Closing Fund – created in 2007 to allow Arkansas officials to provide cash grants to companies to both attract and retain businesses in the state – to support the loan program.

AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston said he was pleased with the number of applications they have seen and how quickly the team is turning those around. So far, they’ve done about 138 of those – a 0 percent interest loan for up to $25,000 with no payments for 12 months – representing more than 47 counties across the state.

“Our hope and goal in this is to make sure we don’t send more people to have to go to unemployment but we can keep as many of these businesses open as we can,” he said.

So far, around 110,000 unemployment insurance claims have been filed.

The governor complimented the Arkansas Department of Commerce for their hard work in processing such a large caseload but mentioned they are expecting the number to continue to rise.

Preston predicted a total of 150,000 by the end of the week.

As the numbers have grown, Preston said they have had to reassign staff from other departments like economic development, finance and insurance, to process the claims.

“We’re all hands on deck to get those answered,” he said.

Despite social gathering guidelines, Arkansans still continue to appear in person, but Preston encouraged those who want to file, do so online.

“Last night, we had our first pandemic unemployment compensation checks go out,” he said. “This is the additional $600 that was provided by the CARES Act ... folks are getting on top of their UI claims.”

Preston said he’s been getting a lot of calls about the second part of the new legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump that deals with unemployment assistance, which Arkansas just received federal guidance for.

He said this has never been done before, therefore, it will require the AEDC to build an entirely new system to process the claims, taking about three weeks to do and asked people to wait and be patient.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 18 people in the state had died from the COVID-19 and 1,071 had tested positive. At least 232 people had recovered and 14,904 tests had been performed.

Staff writer Hilary Andrews can be reached at handrews@the

cabin.net

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