LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Arkansas lawmakers on Friday voted to create a $173 million rainy day fund to combat coronavirus and to prevent some agencies’ budgets from being cut because of the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The House and Senate unanimously approved identical bills moving the state’s surplus into the fund, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson could access with the approval of legislative leaders. Both chambers planned to give final passage to the proposal at 12 a.m. Saturday, and Hutchinson said he planned to sign the legislation shortly afterward.

Hutchinson proposed the fund after announcing the state faced a $353 million budget shortfall due to the coronavirus outbreak. The state has had at least 381 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and three deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. 

Hutchinson has said the fund is needed to avoid cuts in essential services during the outbreak, including the Department of Health, and for needs such as hospital equipment.

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