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State panelists endorse $3.7M in requests

Relief-fund bids to go to governor by Michael R. Wickline | June 24, 2021 at 6:50 a.m.
The Arkansas State Capitol Building is shown in this file photo.

The steering committee appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to recommend the best uses of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds endorsed requests totaling $3.7 million from the departments of corrections, transformation and public safety.

Arkansas' 15-member CARES Act steering committee -- appointed by the Republican governor in late March of 2020 -- recommended the governor approve the Department of Corrections' request for $2.1 million; the Department of Transformation and Shared Services' request for $829,484; and the Department of Public Safety's request for $757,016.

The CARES Act is the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020, enacted by Congress and then-President Donald Trump in March 2020.

The state has a $2.5 million balance of relief funds, plus $1.3 million returned by several departments, Department Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther said.

Corrections Secretary Solomon Graves said in a letter dated June 18 to the committee that "with the covid-19 pandemic continuing, our resource needs have also continued," so the department requested $2.1 million for reimbursement of medical and public health expenses.

He said the department's request included:

• $1.11 million for reimbursement of covid-19 testing.

• $260,000 for air sanitizing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment and air-quality metering for the Ouachita River Unit and Omega Supervision Sanctions Center.

• $250,000 for videoconferencing equipment and other technology expenses for its human resources and training section to conduct virtual employee training and onboarding of new employees.

• $200,000 for technology expenses to allow for virtual treatment in residential centers. The money would help pay for hardware and video teleconferencing equipment.

• $130,000 for CPR and first-aid training equipment needed to maintain training licensure requirements and to limit exposure of staff members and participants by increasing their social distancing.

The transformation department's request for $829,484 will reimburse its Division of Information System's expenses to use contractors, help state employees and procure licenses to respond to the technology needs of the pandemic, department Secretary Amy Fecher said in a letter to steering committee chairwoman and Department of Inspector General Secretary Elizabeth Smith.

The technology needs of the pandemic included platforms for unemployment assistance, network infrastructure for remote work, and virtual meeting platforms, Fecher said.

The Public Safety Department's request for $757,016 includes $597,000 for the expansion and automation of information technology and licensing systems, $102,600 for an application and workflow system for the Arkansas Crime Victims Reparations Board and $57,416 to reimburse the Crime Laboratory for assigning employees to the Department of Health early in the pandemic to help set up testing and processing of samples of the coronavirus, the department said in its written request to the steering committee.

Some of the department's sections were able to modify operations better than others early in the pandemic because of their ability to accept applications and background checks electronically, according to the department. But that was not the case for the used-motor vehicle dealer licensing section, and the private investigator, security guard and alarm company licensing section, the state fire marshal's office and the Crime Victims Reparations Board.

The proposed licensing system for the Arkansas State Police Regulatory Division is a system known as Software-as-a Service, which incorporates an enterprise licensing platform, and this is the same system currently used by the state Department of Labor and Licensing, the Department of Public Safety said.

"The public will be able to submit applications and payments electronically, virtually eliminating the need for face-to-face contact and significantly reducing the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus," the department said in its written request. "This proposed system could lead to the ability for additional staff to work remotely, should the need arise."

The proposed system will be Criminal Justice Information System compliant so the processing of criminal history will not be an issue, according to the department. "Since ELP can be adopted to various licensing needs, it has the potential to be used for our Concealed Handgun Carry License (CHCL) program."

The steering committee also recommended extending its June 30 deadline until Dec. 31 of this year for several agencies to spend $61.6 million in federal relief funds.

"We did not anticipate really having any large amount to distribute," Smith told the steering committee.

Print Headline: Panelists endorse $3.7M in requests

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