Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that he had signed an executive order forming a 15-member steering committee to direct $1.25 billion in federal funds the state expects to receive to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
He also said he’d approved an additional $45 million for the purchase of personal protective equipment for health care workers as well as ventilators. Previously, $30 million had been allocated for PPE.
The anticipated federal funds are a result of President Donald Trump signing on Friday the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act.
The steering committee will determine how the CARES funds will be spent. It will consist of six members of the Arkansas General Assembly and members of his administration, the governor said.
He is awaiting clarification on what exactly the funds can be used for, but he does not expect that the state will be able to use them to cover a $343 million shortfall in its budget that is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hutchinson said he expects the funds to be used to increase the number of hospital beds in Arkansas; to buy PPE, ventilators and respirators; and for other similar needs.
On the additional $45 million approved for the purchase of PPE and ventilators, he said the state is looking at what will be needed over the next 60 days.
He also said the federal government’s focus is on “hot spots,” like New York City, New Orleans and California.
“As they’re having to devote an enormous amount of resources to those venues, it makes it even more challenging for states like Arkansas to get in that supply chain,” Hutchinson cautioned. “We’re having to compete in a very difficult marketplace.”
For example, he said, one supplier told him that demand is 64% more than his capacity to produce. So this is a “seller’s market,” the governor said.
In other news, Arkansas had recorded seven COVID-19 deaths and 473 total cases, including the first recorded by Arkansas County, as of Monday afternoon. Of those patients, 62 are hospitalized and 21 are on ventilators. There were also 29 patients who have recovered.