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COVID-19 Weekly Policy Update, Vol. 9

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COVID-19 Weekly Policy Update, Vol. 9

Policy and administrative changes continue to move quickly at the state and federal level in response to COVID-19. Arkansas Advocates for Children Families will work to keep you updated on policy news at the end of each week. More pandemic-related blogs and publications are available here.

State Updates

The Color of Coronavirus
“When America catches a cold, Black folks catch the flu.” A new blog by Arkansas Advocates Race Equity Director for Advocacy, Melvin Clayton, discusses the disproportionate cases of COVID-19 in people of color and the connection to racist structures, including economic and policy factors. Black Arkansans are three times more likely to die of the virus than Whites: For every 100,000 White Arkansans, 2.1 have died a COVID-19 related death; for every 100,000 Black Arkansans, the rate is 7.1. Read the full blog.

COVID-19: 3 Policy Principles to Advance Equity
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently put forth three public policy principals they believe would address many of the inequities being seen around COVID-19, which, if enacted by Arkansas lawmakers, could help reverse current trends and create a broader economic recovery. 1. Target Arkansans with the greatest health and economic needs. 2. Dismantle Arkansas’s longstanding racial, gender, and economic inequities. 3. Protect Arkansas for long-term economic growth and opportunity. Learn more.

Uptick in Cases
Highest One-Day Increase from Community Spread
Arkansas saw its greatest increase in cases from community spread on Thursday with an additional 261 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all considered to be from community spread. Dr. Nate Smith said the recent increase in cases does not appear to be associated with the recent reopening of businesses. But the largest number of cases seem to be connected with workplace clusters, such in the poultry industry. Of all cases in the state so far, half of those who tested positive reported having no symptoms when they were tested.

Latinx and Hispanic Arkansans Seeing Higher Rates of Positive Cases
On Tuesday, Dr. Nate Smith discussed the increase of COVID-19 seen in the Latinx/Hispanic community. On Monday 42 percent of new cases were of Latinx Arkansans. He attributed this to more accessibility of testing. Latinx Arkansans now account for 20 percent of active cases and 10 percent of total cases. Dr. Nate Smith said that the increase in cases in not related only to workplace spread. A child who is 3 years old tested positive.

Infections at Poultry Plants
As of Friday, there were over 400 people who work in poultry plants who have tested positive in Benton, Yell, Washington, Sevier, and Pope counties.

Marshallese Arkansans Infected at Disproportionate Rates
The Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM) released a new analysis recently showing that the Pacific Islander community – mostly Marshallese families in Arkansas – have much higher rates of infection than any other racial or ethnic group in the state. An analysis of the state numbers by Dr. Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, showed that Pacific Islanders have 4.5 times higher case rates and death rates compared to the overall rates in Arkansas. You can read more about the analysis and how members of the Marshallese community are working together in our recent blog.

Increase Active Cases Seen in Northwest Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas now accounts for the majority of new positive COVID-19 cases. Twenty-six percent of active cases, or 476 people out of 1,830 active cases, are from Washington and Benton counties in Northwest Arkansas. The Sevier County, De Queen area has the second highest number of new cases.

New Pandemic EBT to Help Children Facing Food Insecurity
Last week, Arkansas became the latest state approved to start a Pandemic-EBT program under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. Pandemic-EBT is a new program authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help families afford to replace the meals their children would have received at school, and it’s available even to families who have never used SNAP benefits before. As the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) explained here, there is no additional paperwork or process necessary to receive benefits. If you are already enrolled in SNAP, you will see the additional benefits on your EBT card the last week of May or first week of June. If you are not enrolled in SNAP, the Department of Education has provided DHS with the address it had on file for you. An EBT card will be mailed to that address sometime in June. Read more here.

Reopening Schools
In a press conference this week, Governor Hutchinson reported that the state is developing plans for starting schools in the fall. He said it is possible that education delivery may be blended between online and in-class instruction. The state is working to build infrastructure for online instruction and will be asking the legislature to approve funding to provide high-speed internet access in rural parts of the state. But the Governor expects that school will begin at the scheduled date.

Health and Safety for the November Election
The Governor said that the state will work hard to ensure that the election will occur in a safe fashion for both voters and poll workers. He said he will decide what safety measures need to be implemented and what other changes may need to be made in August, because that is when ballots begin to be printed.

Federal Court Ruling on Ballot Signature Collection
A federal judge ruled last week that that signature collection for ballot petitions and constitutional amendments can go forward without the previous requirement of an in-person witness to the signings, meaning people could print off a ballot petition, sign it, and mail it to the signature collector. But the judge did not rule in favor of decreasing the number of signatures required, changing the current deadline for signature collection, or allowing digital signature collection. The lawsuit was brought by Arkansas Voters First, which is promoting a constitutional amendment that would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The state can appeal the ruling.

Over Two Percent of Arkansans Tested for COVID-19 in May
Earlier this month Governor Hutchinson set a goal of testing 60,000 Arkansans, or 2 percent of the population in the month of May. Over the Memorial Day Weekend Arkansas exceed that goal. And as of Friday, more than 70,000 people had been tested in the state. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4 percent of Arkansans have been tested. Find a testing site near you.

Pandemic Unemployment Site Back Up
After shutting down for several days to address security issues that allowed people to easily view the private information of applicants, including social security numbers, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application site is back up and running. The new, federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program allows gig and self-employed workers who have lost their work because of the COVID-19 crisis to receive assistance. The state has paid out $16.8 million in assistance to over 15,000 claimants so far.

Dr. Smith Leaving for CDC
Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Department of Health, will be leaving the department on August 28 to become Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Jose Romero has been appointed as Interim Health Secretary for State. “Dr. Romero has been at Arkansas Children’s since 2008, and he has been the Arkansas Department of Health’s chief medical officer since April of this year. Dr. Romero also serves as the chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices with the CDC. The Governor recently appointed him to serve on the medical advisory panel he created to guide the state during the pandemic.” Read more from the Governor’s press release.

Federal Updates

100,000 Deaths
More than 100,000 people have now died from COVID-19 across the United States. The New York Times paid tribute to those who have been lost in a feature over the weekend. In Arkansas, 125 people have died from the virus.

Economic Stimulus Debit Cards
People who did not have direct deposit information with the IRS are now receiving their economic stimulus payments that were part of the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act. The payments are coming in the mail on prepaid debit cards. The cards are called Economic Impact Payment Cards, and you can find more information here.

Unemployment
Over 4.5 million people applied for unemployment insurance in the previous two weeks. Data are now also starting to be released for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program for self-employed and gig workers. Nearly 9 million people applied for assistance through the program, so far.

Resources

Arkansas United COVID-19 Page in Spanish: Para información sobre COVID-19 en Español

Marshallese Education Initiative COVID-19 Page in Marshallese: Ñan melele ko ikijeen COVID-19 ilo kajin Majõl

Marshallese Call-In Line: UAMS Northwest has a dedicated call-in center for people who speak Marshallese and suspect they need a COVID-19 test. Calls will be answered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The number is (479) 713-8708. UAMS has also established an interpretation line for health care providers to use if they need help serving Marshallese patients. It’s available 24 hours a day. For more information about that resource (for health providers only), contact Stacia Dean at SNDean (at) uams.edu or Betsy O’Connor at GEOconnor (at) uams.edu.

Applying for Assistance Programs: Legal Aid of Arkansas created a fact sheet breaking down how to apply for Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and unemployment benefits. A Spanish version is here. Legal Aid has also created a comprehensive guide, which is available here in Spanish.

Receiving Stimulus Payments: Arkansas Advocates created a fact sheet on how to receive the federal Economic Impact Payment from the CARES Act.

Applying for Health Care Coverage After Losing a Job: People who have lost their workplace health care coverage in the last 60 days due to the pandemic may be eligible for a marketplace qualifying health plan. You can determine your options with the Arkansas Insurance Department at 1-844-355-3262 or www.myarinsurance.com.

Guidance for those with Underlying Health Conditions: The CDC has produced these guidelines for those with underlying health conditions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Arkansas 211: 211 is a free, statewide telephone service that connects individuals in need to important community services in the state of Arkansas like food pantries, health programs, crisis intervention, shelters, and more. Just call “211.”

Applying for Unemployment Insurance: There is a new option to apply for unemployment insurance online or by phone. You can apply here.

Self-Employed Workers Unemployment Assistance: Gig and self-employed workers can now apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance here.

Applying for Medicaid, ARKids First (children’s health insurance), or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps): The Department of Human Services has made changes encouraging the public to avoid in-person visits to DHS county offices and is allowing fewer people in the lobbies at the same time, increasing wait times. People are encouraged to apply online at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or to use the phone application option by calling 1-855-372-1084. County offices will be installing drop-off boxes for paper applications. And required SNAP interviews may be conducted by phone rather than in person.

WIC (nutrition assistance program for Women, Infants and Children): Contact your county Department of Health office for information on how to apply.

Department of Health Updates: You can get the latest COVID-19 updates from the Department of Health here.

Finding a food pantry: Some pantries may be closed, so call ahead to confirm.
Arkansas Foodbank pantry map
Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas food pantry network
Harvest Regional Food Bank (Texarkana)
Food Bank of North Central Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
River Valley Regional Food Bank

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