Can my employees quit in order to receive unemployment insurance?
No. For both traditional unemployment insurance and the expanded unemployment insurance programs created under the CARES Act, workers are ineligible to receive benefits if they quit their job or were fired for good cause.
Specifically, for the expanded programs, it is stipulated that if a worker obtained benefits through false pretenses (i.e., they quit their jobs to obtain unemployment benefits or were fired for good cause), he or she is ineligible for any additional benefit payments, must pay back the benefits, and is subject to prosecution for fraud.
To report employees who attempt to receive unemployment insurance benefits through fraudulent avenues (i.e., quit in order to receive benefits), click here.
Can my employees choose to stay on unemployment insurance and not return to work?
No. For both traditional unemployment insurance and the expanded unemployment insurance programs created under the CARES Act, if workers receiving unemployment benefits are offered suitable employment, they must take it. In Arkansas, if a worker declines to accept suitable employment, or if a worker refuses recall after being laid off, they will be disqualified from receiving benefits.
To report employees who refuse to accept an offer to return to work in order to continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits, click here.
If I have to reduce hours, can my employees receive partial unemployment benefits?
Yes. Work sharing or “cost-sharing” programs allow employers to reduce hours for their employees in order to keep more workers on payroll. Employees receive partial unemployment benefits to help make up for a reduced paycheck.
For more information or to enroll in Arkansas’s shared-work program, click here.
As a self-employed business owner, am I eligible to receive unemployment benefits? Am I also eligible for the additional $600 weekly payment?
Yes. If you are a self-employed worker, then you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits under the expanded programs created in the CARES Act – specifically Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits to workers who are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, including self-employed workers, workers with limited work history, and workers who are not able to telework and are not receiving any form of paid leave.
Additionally, if you are receiving state unemployment insurance or federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you are eligible to receive an additional $600 in weekly benefits up until July 31, 2020, through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.
On Tuesday, March 24th, I held a telephone town hall and Facebook LIVE event with Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Arkansas’s Surgeon General, to answer your questions regarding the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Please click HERE or on the image below to watch the entire telephone town hall.
Here are some of the most frequent questions I have received:
Governor Hutchinson said that our healthcare professionals have received 25% of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that experts claim will be necessary in Arkansas. What is our plan to bridge that 75% gap?
The president has enacted the Defense Production Act and is prepared to use the power that this grants the administration to direct the production of more N95 masks should the need arise.
We have begun to use N95 masks that have been donated from construction and other fields that require the same filtering capabilities as the ones used in the medical profession. Across the country, beauticians and tattoo artists have contributed gloves, gowns, and other protective gear.
Dr. Bledsoe said that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending out stockpiled PPE that they have on hand to states and locations that need it the most, which includes Arkansas.
Recently, Governor Hutchinson announced, in addition to the 25% of Arkansas's need that the federal reserve supply is already giving, another 25% of the requested PPE is being allocated for use in Arkansas.
On Friday March 20th, Governor Hutchinson also said that the state is putting forward $30 million to procure PPE, and that supply will arrive in Arkansas this coming weekend.
The private sector is also working to help solve this issue. Privately owned companies have been donating protective gear across the country. For example, 3M has donated over 500,000 masks that are being directed to some of the places hit hardest by COVID-19.
Arkansans have also been coming together to solve this problem. Dr. Terry Fiddler in Conway is a recently retired dentist, but while he was still practicing, he was a leader in the Mercy Clinics every year, providing dental care to those that needed it most, free of charge. Dr. Fiddler has once again stepped up in the middle of this crisis by going to the Mercy Clinics warehouse and donating their entire stock of PPE to the Arkansas Department of Health for our healthcare workers to utilize in the fight against COVID-19.
Can anyone go to a drive-through testing location and receive a test?
To help our healthcare workers utilize their PPE effectively and to ensure that tests to go to those who need it most, our medical professionals are suggesting that you contact your primary care physician before you visit a testing location.
If a healthcare provider has deemed it necessary for you to be tested, you can visit these drive-thru testing locations:
Arkansas Children’s Hospital (for pediatric patients only)
Location: ACH campus on 10th street
Baptist Health Medical Center-Heber Springs
Location: Adjacent Specialty Clinic
Baptist Health Little Rock
Location: Ground Floor of hospital parking deck
Conway Regional Medical Center
Location: Hospital’s West Lobby Entrance (currently closed to the public)
Jefferson Regional Medical Center
Location: 4201 Mulberry, Pine Bluff, AR 71603
North Arkansas Regional Medical Center
Location: Hospital owned office building parking lot
Hotline: 870-336-5651 or 870-336-5671
Location: Offsite COVID clinic parking lot
Location: Shuffield Drive & Jack Stephens Drive
Washington Regional Eureka Springs Family Clinic
Family Clinic Location: 146 Passion Play Road, Suite A (Eureka Springs)
Location: 3318 N. North Hills Boulevard (Fayetteville)
Last week, I stopped by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) COVID-19 drive-through testing facility and talked to the Chair of Pathology and lead doctor on shift, Dr. Jennifer Hunt, about the important ongoing effort to make testing accessible.
On the telephone town hall, Dr. Bledsoe reminded everyone on the call that to keep older people and those receiving treatment for other illnesses safe from COVID-19, please do NOT go to a healthcare facility, including your doctor’s office, an urgent care clinic, or the emergency room without calling ahead as this could lead to the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable people who are seeking care for other illnesses.
Instead, here are some of the steps that you can take:
Become familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19.
Contact your primary care physician to explain your symptoms and medical history to determine if a test is warranted.
Use the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) screening tool:
- UAMS HealthNow now offers a FREE screening tool.
- It’s available 24 hours a day and can be accessed from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer.
- Go to https://uamshealth.com/healthnow/ and click on “Begin Screening.”
- The tool will guide you regarding your next steps – if any – such as contacting your primary care physician for further evaluation and possible testing for the virus.
Call the Arkansas coronavirus hotlines:
- For children (staffed by Arkansas Children's Hospital): 1-800-743-3616.
- For adults (staffed by UAMS): 1-800-632-4502.
Contact the Arkansas Department of Health at 1-800-803-7847.
If you are a Medicare Beneficiary, consider using telemedicine services.
The president has authorized the expansion of Medicare telemedicine services to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by enabling people to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. For more information, please click HERE. For an FAQ on how to utilize telemedicine, please click HERE.
Here is an easy guide to help you decide when you should seek care if you have symptoms of COVID-19.
I am a small business owner. What can I do to keep my business afloat and help my employees?
Last week, Congress passed COVID-19 “Phase II” legislation (H.R. 6201) which included paid sick leave for caregiving and the quarantine period for employees. That cost is initially paid for by the employer, but businesses will be reimbursed for the paid time off with a Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax credit.
For more immediate help, the Small Business Administration approved Governor Hutchinson’s disaster declaration request for economic injury as a result of the novel coronavirus on March 20th.
This means that small businesses in central Arkansas and throughout the state can start applying for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) immediately. These loans are designed to help businesses who are losing revenue due to federal, state, and local measures about COVID-19.
Click HERE to apply for these loans now that the declaration has been made official. If you are not a small business owner but would like to help, please share this information with your friends, family, and the local businesses that you frequent.
What can we do to help our Arkansas restaurants?
If you are able, help support your local restaurants with take out and pick up orders. As I'm sure you're aware, social distancing measures in place to slow the spread of the virus have had a tremendous impact on our restaurants. By still patronizing your favorite spots, you can help them weather this crisis and make it through to the other side.
Last week, I picked up salads and pizza from ZAZA's in Little Rock!
For a list of restaurants that are offering carry out, curbside pick up, and delivery for their customers, click HERE or on the image below.
How long can COVID-19 live on surfaces? Are we at risk when we order packages?
During the telephone town hall, Dr. Bledsoe said that the data in regards to this virus is very limited because COVID-19 is a new disease and scientists have not had the chance to study it for very long. What we do know is that most reports say the time the virus can survive on surfaces, if it is not disturbed, is measured in days, not hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) generally, coronaviruses such as COVID-19 are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through food or packages in the mail.
Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. You can best protect yourself from any viral particles left on surfaces by washing your hands frequently throughout the day, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
To prevent this kind of spread, disinfect surfaces regularly as well, especially ones that you are in constant contact with, such as your phone, remotes, or other devices.
Per the CDC, in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.
What assistance is available for people who need help feeding their families?
In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, and to protect the health and safety of Arkansans, many restaurants and other client-facing industries have been forced to furlough or lay off their employees until their businesses can safely reopen. For many families, this is a devastating loss of income and can lead many to wonder where their next meal will come from.
If this is your situation, please know that help is available. Food pantries and subsidized grocery stores remain open and have ramped up their operations to serve those that need assistance.
For a full list of food pantries and subsidized grocery stores, click HERE or on the image above.
Further, under the COVID-19 “Phase II” legislation (H.R. 6201) that was signed into law last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can grant emergency allotments to states that have issued a state-wide emergency or disaster declaration and who have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Arkansas was among the first states to be approved for this benefit, and this allotment allows all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-participating households to be brought up to the maximum SNAP benefit through the end of April.
What protections are in place to prevent price gouging and scams?
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and our state government have been working to prevent price gouging and to crack down on scam artists who are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis.
When Governor Hutchinson declared a state of emergency on March 11th, Arkansas's price gouging laws automatically went into effect.
This state law prevents individuals or businesses from increasing product prices by more than ten percent of what the product would have cost prior to the state of emergency declaration. Violators can face criminal charges and fines as well as civil penalties of up to $10,000 per incident. Arkansans can report price gougers to the Attorney General’s Office at ArkansasAG.gov or call (800) 482-8982. Click HERE or on the image below to watch Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge discuss the penalties for price gouging.
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to avoid price gouging:
· Know the average price for goods like hand sanitizer, soap, and non-perishable food items before purchasing. If it seems too high, ask questions.
· Avoid high-pressure sales tactics to purchase items that claim to keep you healthy.
· When possible, deal with established, reputable businesses in the community.
· Stay updated on the latest risks, warnings, and prevention tactics at CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
The president has also authorized the Department of Justice, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, to prosecute price gouging and hoarding of “scare” items.
To report fraud related to the COVID-19 public health crisis, you can also call the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or email the NCDF e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should also be vigilant for possible scams related to COVID-19 such as cures or people posing as fake government agencies to steal your money or personal information. For example, the CDC is NOT going door to door and offering COVID-19 testing in exchange for money and personal information. If someone comes to your door, contact the AG's office at 800-482-8932 or report the incident HERE.
For more information from a panel of experts, watch my interview on "Arkansas Asks" where I was joined by Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Director of Immunizations and Outbreak Response for the Arkansas Department of Health, Dr. Steppe Mette from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Dr. Joe Thompson from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, and Dr. Keyur Vyas an Infectious Disease Specialist from UAMS. You can watch by clicking HERE, or on the image below.
We need to be in this together to solve this crisis. Now is the time to put our American flags out and come together as a community to help each other.