Residents of Washington County officials argue over using the money for covid aid

Residents of Washington County officials argue over using the money for covid aid

Al Allen, of Fayetteville, said she is working three jobs and attending college full time. She said she has lost two jobs during the pandemic, yet was unable to get unemployment benefits. She said her family and others have been accumulating debt, selling property and going without services including water and electricity, food and clothing.

“The Quorum Court cannot do everything and fix all your problems,” Robert Dennis, Justice of the Peace for District 10 which includes Farmington, told a group of about 30 people who gathered at Creekside Park. “The Quorum Court is required to provide roads and jails. That’s by state law.”

Highlights

  • “It’s time for people without shoes to get a handout,” she said.

  • Allen said at least some of the covid-19 relief money needs to go people in need through direct payments. She said big businesses have benefited from government programs she called “corporate welfare” and the American Rescue Plan money should go to people in need.

Beth Coger of Fayetteville, one of the organizers of the meetings, gave a brief slide-show presentation on the American Rescue Plan money available to the county. Moore said the Washington County Quorum Court is considering a multimillion-dollar expansion of the Washington County Detention Center as one possible use for the funds. She said the aim of the meetings is to generate other ideas and to persuade county officials to pause spending decisions on the money until a robust public discussion of other possible uses for the money can be had.

The meeting was the fourth in a series of “community cookout conversation” events organized by the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition. Members of the group have been asking county officials to have an open public discussion of how the county may use the money it is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Other meetings are planned for Oct. 13 at the Riverside Park in West Fork and Oct. 19 on the square in Lincoln.

Dennis and Jim Wilson, justice of the peace for District 14, attended Wednesday’s meeting. Farmington Mayor Ernie Penn and Diane Bryant, a member of the Farmington City County, also attended.

Dennis said the Quorum Court “has historically not been in social services.” He asked those who proposed the county use the money for needs like food, rental assistance, child care, health care and mental health services how the county can determine who is eligible and who is most in need of assistance. Dennis also suggested there are jobs open for those who are in need, citing openings at the County Road Department and the Detention Center. Dennis said the Road Department jobs start at an hourly rate of just over $13, which drew some push back.

Josh Moody of Fayetteville said people have to consider more than just the pay they might receive. He said there are other costs, like child care, that have to be considered as part of the whole picture. “When you’re talking about a $14 or $15 an hour job, if someone is having to pay for child care there may be a net difference of $5,” Moody suggested.

More News Federal pandemic assistance

Benton County will receive a total of $54 million-$27 million per year over the next two years. Source: Staff report

Washington County has received $23 million this year under the plan and expects to receive another $23 million next year. The American Rescue Plan provides $350 billion in federal money for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, to offset the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, according to information from the Treasury Department.