UPDATE: Thank you! A number of Arkansas voters signed their names to a petition urging lawmakers to take action on this urgent need. And it worked! The Arkansas Legislative Council approved the $7 million federal aid package on July 27.

Arkansans are suffering and dying from COVID-19, and we need all the help we can get. So why did our lawmakers walk away from $7 million in federal money that would boost testing and contact tracing for our most vulnerable citizens?

On Friday, July 24, some members of the Arkansas Legislative Council voted to not even consider accepting funds earmarked to quash out-of-control infection rates among our Latinx and Marshallese communities. They said no to COVID relief funds the experts say we need.

Accepting the money is a no-brainer. Medical experts at the Arkansas Department of Health say we need it. The governor says we need it. And yet, these 14 lawmakers voted to adjourn their meeting without even considering it. They headed home for the weekend and left the money sitting on the table.

Their reasoning isn’t clear, but the message these lawmakers sent certainly is.

“It’s not a good message at all,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “I mean, the fact is the Center for Disease Control recommended a special investment and some increased testing, contact tracing and emphasis on the the Latinx and Marshallese populations there in Northwest Arkansas, and the CARES Act steering committee expanded that to include other parts of the state that had high minority populations that were impacted.”

Our lawmakers can and should consider this $7 million aid offer down the road. But Arkansans need action immediately. 

Marshallese make up only 3 percent of Northwest Arkansas’s population but account for more than 50 percent of the region’s COVID deaths. Latinx communities are similarly hard-hit. And as long as this pandemic rages out of control, every single Arkansan is vulnerable.

When Arkansans are suffering and dying, we expect lawmakers to step up, not step out. Don’t let them say no to the COVID relief funds we so clearly need. Tell lawmakers to put these urgently needed funds to work today.