Our community, state and nation have been weathering the Covid19 pandemic and the disruption to our daily lives several months now. There is no doubt that this crisis situation has been one of the most difficult periods of time we have faced since I began serving in public office in 2011. I have fielded numerous calls from constituents under stress due to job losses, business closures, school closures, unemployment assistance, health restrictions and concerns for the future. Please know that I will continue to do my best to respond to your requests and connect you with the appropriate people and resources to assist you to the best of my ability. I stand with all of you as your state senator and continue to have our entire community in my personal thoughts and prayers. You have my pledge to continue working hard for you every single day. I have faith that better times are ahead of us.

Since the middle of March our state has been reacting and responding to the various health directives given at the state and national level. Our governor declared a state of emergency which has included various health directives that have impacted our daily lives as we all do our best to keep our families healthy and safe. I share the common goal I believe we all have to get back to normal as soon as possible. In spite of difficulties, our state legislature met for our fiscal session and continues to meet in meetings as needed to oversee the affairs of our state during this period of unprecedented job losses and disruption to our economy.

Assistance For Arkansans

More than 10,500 Arkansas businesses have been approved for grants to reimburse them for the expenses of protecting the health of employees and customers.

The grants are worth up to $100,000, and the total amount of approved grants is about $115 million. They were made available through the Ready for Business Program.

Based on a list provided by the Arkansas Commerce Department, 202 businesses qualified for the maximum grant of $100,000.

The department received 12,234 applications, but 201 were withdrawn or determined to be ineligible.

About 2,500 applications lack paperwork and can still be approved if missing items, such as tax forms, are submitted.

Federal funding was made available in Arkansas as part of a national effort to restore the economy from the negative effects of business closures and layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In mid-May the legislature voted to allocate $147.7 million to the Ready for Business program. The governor appointed a steering committee, composed of legislators and administration officials, to recommend how best to use the $1.25 billion that Arkansas received from the federal CARES Act. That stands for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Businesses that receive a grant can spend it on supplies such as protective equipment like masks, no-contact thermometers, hand sanitizer stations and cleaning products. They can purchase machines that allow a monetary transaction that requires no contact between the customer and the clerk.

At least 15 percent of grant recipients must be businesses owned by women or minorities. The Secretary of the Commerce Department said that approved businesses should see checks deposited in their bank accounts within the week.

A state senator on the steering committee said he would like to see some of the CARES Act money be put in a reserve fund.

Another senator on the steering committee noted that Arkansas is obligated to spend CARES Act funding before December 30. If a vaccine is not available before then, it raises the question of whether Arkansas can spend money now from the CARES fund in order to secure future supplies of the vaccine when they do become available. State health officials will look into the wording of the federal funding bill to get an answer to that question.

Food Aid for Children

Financial help is available for families whose children were getting free or reduced-price meals when schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For each child who was enrolled in the lunch program, the family will receive $319. If the family was enrolled in SNAP, the food stamp program, the money will be added to their EBT during the last week of May or first week of June.

If the family was not enrolled in SNAP, the state Department of Education will provide the Department of Human Services with the family’s address, which was on file in the children’s school. DHS will mail an EBT card to the family’s address in June.

The payment will be made only to families enrolled in the free or reduced-price school lunch program when the health emergency was declared and schools were closed. It is a one-time payment, meant to help low-income families who have had to pay for their children’s meals after schools were shut down.

Please contact my office if I can assist you. I always welcome your opinion on bills, policies or issues that are important to you and invite you to contact me by email at jason.rapert@senate.ar.gov or calling me at the Senate at 501-682-2902 or locally at 501-336-0918.

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