JONESBORO — The U.S. Defense Department has sent a 20-member military medical contingent to Arkansas to help fight the war on COVID-19, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday.
Set to arrive today, the medical team will help staff members at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences expand their intensive care capacity for treating COVID patients for the next 30 days, the governor said.
The state recorded 2,181 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, down from 2,800 a week ago. However, the state also recorded 34 deaths, bringing the total to 7,142 since the pandemic arrived in Arkansas in March 2020.
Locally, Greene County recorded 84 new cases and one death; Craighead County had 81 with one death and Poinsett had 24 new cases and one death, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Also, Hutchinson announced “two big changes” to the state’s rental assistance program for landlords and tenants who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. Congressional leaders criticized Arkansas and four other states for failing to distribute federal funding in a timely way.
As of Aug. 30, only $7.2 million of the $173 million allocated had been distributed to landlords and utility companies.
Tenants and their advocates have complained that state restrictions went beyond the guidelines recommended by the Biden Administration.
Hutchinson announced that Deloitte, the company the Arkansas Department of Human Services outsourced the work to, has hired 70 more people to help process applications, bringing the total number of people working on the rental assistance program to 160.
“First of all, the applications for those who’ve received eviction notices will be prioritized,” Hutchinson told reporters. “If they have any risk of eviction, they can document that and they will be prioritized. Right now, we have 2,800 applicants that are in this position. Of those over 1,300 will be paid by next week.”
The second change will end a stalemate for tenants unable to receive help because their landlords wouldn’t cooperate.
“Funds can be paid to eligible tenants even if the landlord does not submit the required information,” Hutchinson said. The governor said the landlords will be contacted again, and if they don’t respond within 10 days, the money will go directly to the tenant, rather than the landlord.
“This will impact about 6,000 applicants who’ve been waiting for landlord application,” Hutchinson said.
According to updated information Wednesday, only 3,266 of 15,139 applicants had received a total of $9.8 million in assistance under the federal program. That’s an increase of 358 since the end of last month. There are 2,873 applications still being processed, Hutchinson said.
“Another point I would make is that we have $173 million in the state. If all all 15,000 applications are processed and approved, that totals less than $40 million. That still leaves us with $133 million, so under any test that Washington wants to give, we’re not going to spend $173 million.”