Arkansas asks $300-a-week COVID-19 jobless benefit extension

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks to reporters in Little Rock, Arkansas on Wednesday, March...
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks to reporters in Little Rock, Arkansas on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 after presenting his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo) (KY3)
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 12:21 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas is seeking $300 in additional weekly federal unemployment benefits, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday as the state reported 729 new confirmed coronavirus cases.

Hutchinson said the state is submitting its application to the federal government for the unemployment extension. He said state lawmakers are also reviewing the request.

Arkansas is the latest state to seek the extended benefits under an executive order issued by President Donald Trump this month. Congress approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension.

Hutchinson opted against seeking $400 in weekly benefits, which would have required the state to pay a quarter of the cost. Hutchinson has said that would cost $265 million and would require tapping into coronavirus relief money the state has received that's already been allocated for other programs.

“That would be hard to utilize that (funding) to meet the state’s match,” Hutchinson told reporters.

The Department of Health reported at least 54,216 people have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in Arkansas since the pandemic began. Of those cases, 5,919 are active ones that exclude those who have died or recovered.

The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The state reported 12 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total fatalities to 631. The number of people hospitalized rose by seven to 499.

Hutchinson also said it was unrealistic to expect schools to teach only online when school starts, despite a model suggesting doing so would significantly reduce Arkansas' new infections. Schools are allowed to offer online classes or a hybrid model that includes some onsite instruction, but the state is requiring them to be open five days a week for students who need in-person instruction.

The simulation released Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman School of Public Health 3,000 new daily infections in the state on Oct. 6 if all classes are virtual, compared with 8,000 if they’re all in-person and 5,500 for a mix of in-person and online classes.

“You can’t disagree with what was said, but it just ignores the reality and the importance of trying to give the best opportunity for our young people to get the best education under these circumstances,” Hutchinson said.

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