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story.lead_photo.caption FILE: Gov. Asa Hutchinson gives the State of the State address on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in the senate chamber of the state Capitol in Little Rock. ( Thomas Metthe)

LITTLE ROCK -- Legislative leaders signed off on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to tap the covid-19 rainy-day fund for about $2 million for the crisis stabilization unit programs in four counties in Arkansas.

The pilot programs are in Craighead, Pulaski, Sebastian and Washington counties.

The programs provide a needed alternative to jail for people who are suffering a mental health crisis and are behaving in a way appearing threatening to others, state Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie said in a letter to Larry Walther, secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration.

Gillespie's department requested $2 million for the programs, "recognizing the hardship [that] significantly reducing ... funds would have on the operations plans of these pilot programs," Gillespie wrote.

"Funding for these pilot programs have relied on a combination of rainy-day, agency carry-forward and 'B category' state general revenue," she said. "Recent reductions and lower forecasts for [fiscal year] '21 state general revenue for next fiscal year threatens the operation of these pilots."

Scott Hardin, a Finance Department spokesman, said Tuesday that $2.5 million was originally allocated through the Revenue Stabilization Act in Category B for the units and "it was cut through the revised forecast.

"This request will help fill that cut," Hardin said.

The crisis stabilization units had $1.4 million from a previous rainy-day release, along with $2.1 million from a carry-forward of unspent general revenue from the prior year, he noted.

"This Covid rainy day fund gives them $5.6 million in certified funds now," Hardin said. "Before March 25th, the agency had $6.09 million budgeted."

With $2 million in covid-19 rainy-day money, the estimated reimbursement will be allocated with $532,000 apiece for Craighead, Pulaski and Washington counties, and $440,000 for Sebastian County, Gillespie said.

In a March 26-28 special legislative session, the Legislature and Hutchinson enacted legislation to transfer $173 million in surplus money to the new covid-19 rainy-day fund. The governor is allowed to tap the money with the approval of at least two of three legislative leaders in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, said Tuesday he, Senate Republican leader Bart Hester of Cave Springs and Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis, signed off on the money.

House spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo said House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and House Democratic leader Fred Love of Little Rock also signed off.

About $148.6 million remains in the fund after the move, Hardin said.

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