The Arkansas Legislature is winding down its Fiscal Session after making some necessary, minor adjustments to the state budget. But in the midst of a pandemic that has caused historic unemployment and unprecedented pain for small businesses, the Legislature has failed to address major issues that most people are facing, especially in rural Arkansas.
“Legislators are going home but there’s more work to do,” said DPA Chairman Michael John Gray. “The state has caused all sorts of restaurants, hair salons, and small businesses to shut down but have let the big box stores stay open, which also forces rural Arkansans to travel for necessities in a time when we should be staying at home.We’re hitting record unemployment numbers. It’s not good enough to just leave it all up to the federal government. There needs to be some direct state support. That includes for frontline medical workers like direct care and non-direct care workers in nursing homes, EMTs, and physical therapists who aren’t getting any bonuses.We know that more than 100,000 Arkansans are heading into the summer unable to pay their rent and utility bills. But the Legislature didn’t file a single piece of legislation to make sure Arkansans will be able to stay in their homes or keep their lights on, by placing a moratorium on evictions and utility disconnects. We’ve lost more jobs in a month than we gained in the last 10 years. I don’t see any urgency coming from the state Capitol. This Fiscal Session is over, but we are in a time of crisis and there is more work to do.The Legislature also failed to support a Vote By Mail option for Arkansans despite the clear and present danger of COVID-19. Vote By Mail is proven to work in other states and more are moving to it now. This is about keeping voters and poll workers safe. It is already hard to get poll workers in rural Arkansas and fears like this only exacerbate the problem.”