LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Unemployment claims in Arkansas are expected to reach 150,000 by the end of the week as the coronavirus pandemic upends the economy.
Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, reported that figure in a news conference Wednesday at the State Capitol. The number has grown as Arkansas has taken stricter measures to limit the spread of the virus. Dine-in services at restaurants and bars have been banned and other business, such as salons and tattoo parlors, have been ordered to shut down.
Nationwide, more than 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits last month.
Preston encouraged unemployment applicants to file through the state Department of Workforce Services website. He said the state continues working to improve accessibility to the website, which has struggled to handle a surge in traffic over the past month. Preston said calls to unemployment offices have dropped in recent weeks, a sign that efforts to improve the website have been working and more people are filing online.
Preston said the first unemployment checks issued under the federal coronavirus relief package were distributed last week in Arkansas.
As of Wednesday evening, 18 people in the state had died from the COVID-19 and 1,077 had tested positive. At least 237 people had recovered. More than 14,500 tests had been performed.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at the news conference that another $1 million had been allocated to a state loan program for small businesses struggling during the pandemic. Hutchinson said the initial allocation of $3 million had been dispensed. The program has received more than 800 applications.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said efforts continue to contain an outbreak at a federal prison in Forrest City. Twenty-four inmates and five staffers have tested positive for the virus. Smith said that others were showing symptoms and were being tested. He said a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had arrived and met with state health officials.
More than 13,000 people in the U.S. had died from the virus Wednesday afternoon. Nearly 403,000 had tested positive.