Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants a quick and easy unanimous special legislative session starting Thursday to cut this year’s budget to accommodate an expected $350 million shortfall. The Democratic Party would like that consensus to include help for working people.
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The Democrats have asked for legislation to extend unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, which was the period before a reduction to 16 weeks in 2013 to satisfy the corporate lobby.
The party is also asking for a special pool for unemployment benefits for barbers, stylists, restaurant owners and others (including nail salons, massage therapists and tattoo artists) who aren’t eligible for benefits but who have been forced to close by state orders.
Said Party Chair Michael John Gray:
We can’t let people head into April and May not knowing how they’ll pay their rent, keep the lights on, and put food on the table. People can’t live like that. We can be there for each other and do better by them.”
I’ve asked the governor’s office for comment. I guess the more appropriate place would be the office of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
UPDATE: He’s not receptive. Statement through a spokesman:
“Like everyone else I am concerned about the small business owner or self-employed person who is out of work because of the COVID-19 impact. Hopefully, Congress will provide some financial relief in light of the national health care emergency. The Special Session should only address the one bill to address the immediate budget shortfall. Other matters should wait until future sessions of the legislature. By then we will have a more complete picture of the needs and the scope of federal assistance.”