LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas Legislative Council refused to hear a request to approve $7,000,000 from CARES Act funding that would help contact tracing in the Latinx and Marshallese communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislators voted against suspending the committee rules to address the supplemental agenda Friday during a meeting.
The funding, if approved, would go towards establishing a plan that would have a "dedicated contact tracing center for special populations" and train bilingual contact tracing staff to provide information and materials to Latinx and Marshallese populations.
Governor Asa Hutchinson said the refusal to even discuss the funding is "not a good message at all."
Hutchinson said the funding was recommended by the CDC to help contact tracing and testing in those communities.
"The funds are there and there's urgency in this action and I'm anxious for the legislative council to approve that because it is needed," he said. "We have 900 cases today. We want to take aggressive action, there is pressure on the Department of Health to do this and get it done and to get it right."
Hutchinson hoped the committee would meet again soon and act very quickly on the funding request.
The council also refused to hear CARES Act funding that would help "food insecurity and housing issues related to senior citizens and other vulnerable populations to enable compliance with COVID-19 health precautions." That funding would be awarded to the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame to enhance the foundation's current program and its focus on COVID-19 issues.
State Representative Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) voiced her disappointment with the refusal on Twitter, saying that legislators "chose to not even try to help."
According to Clowney, 60% of the reported COVID-19 deaths in Washington County are from the Marshallese population.
In a CDC report, investigators noted that although the Latinx communities in two counties in northwest Arkansas make up roughly 17% of the population, they accounted for 45% of reported cases.
The report also said that Marshallese make up 1.5% of the population but account for roughly 20% of cases and 38% of deaths in those two counties.