What happened in the Arkansas legislature on Tuesday, Dec. 13?


The main issue was around spending remaining federal Covid funding and the process for deciding who gets the money.

Here’s the deal. There’s just $293 million left in that pot of money (the American Rescue Plan Act aka ARPA). Sure, $293 million sounds like a lot of money. But it’s less so when you’ve got $800 million in requests.

Legislators, who have heretofore had a faucet of federal Covid money, are now having to really prioritize who gets to the front of the line for the dwindling funds. And that caused some heartburn for a few legislators in Tuesday’s ALC Peer Review meeting.

Particularly Senator Jonathan Dismang, who has been vocally displeased with items coming before legislators at the last minute.

“Members, we have said in this committee over and over and over again to stop bringing supplemental items to this committee. All of us have been a part of it. There is very little discussion. There’s no public notice. And we have a $30 million proposal and then another proposal here in this. I mean, at some point, enough is enough.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang

Objection Overruled

However, his objection, along with a few other senators/incoming senators, wasn’t enough to keep the supplemental agenda from getting the 2/3 vote needed to be considered.

You saw this play out later as some items were held and not recommended for funding right now. Rep. Jeff Wardlaw moved to re-vote all the held items toward the end of the meeting. Sen. Missy Irvin wanted the roll call vote split into House and Senate so there would be no doubt who voted how.

Dismang compared the current process to GIF funds, a funding process riddled with corruption that legislators used for pet projects / kickbacks until it was ditched around 5 years ago (after landing several legislators and lobbyists in jail. Hi, Jon Woods, Ecclesia College.)

“We had GIF, and I’m going to tell you this is exactly what it looks like. It’s individual projects that are prioritized without reason except for influence or whatever it may be that’s being brought up for consideration. Now, everybody that’s getting their project considered today is going to be very excited, and maybe there’s enough, collectively, of you that have a project on the table to pass something today, but that’s not a good process. It’s not a fair process.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang

Sen. Missy Irvin got more pointed in calling out her colleagues.

“And all you’re doing is trying to cause division within the legislature body. That’s all you’re doing. And you’re picking winners and losers in the state of Arkansas. Well, excuse me, but every citizen in the state of Arkansas matters. … I will not participate in this. I am a firm no.”

Sen. Missy Irvin

The vote to re-hear the items failed, and the held items – since it’s the end of the year / legislative term – were referred to Joint Budget Committee.

So just how much money is left in ARPA pot?


Representative Jim Dotson pressed DFA on the math to bring into clarity just how quickly that money is disappearing. Of $1.6 billion in funding, just $293 would be left if all the projects on yesterday’s agenda were approved, according to the answers he got.

That’s with around 50 projects left for the legislature to consider – $762 million of which have already been deemed eligible for the funding, and another $170 million left to review.

“If we’ve only got $293 million left to put toward projects, but you’ve got $750, $800 million dollars worth of requests, how are you going to prioritize which things come to the steering committee for approval, which come to us?”

Rep. Jim Dotson

Not likely to get easier

That process a major source of contention and is likely to be moving forward.


We’ve asked and begged and pleaded to understand how things are being prioritized. You just heard about a hospital that’s had something held for two months without consideration, and it made its way to a supplemental agenda just a few hours before our meeting. That doesn’t make any sense to me. That tells me that the process has been broken, and it’s been broken for a while.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang

Listen up, pharmacists.
Want your Covid reimbursement? Better hurry.


Speaking of which, hey Arkansas pharmacists, you might want to make sure you get your reimbursement requests for all those vaccines in pronto before all the money is gone.

McVey (DFA):”We’ve had roughly 120 pharmacies submit data to the Pharmacy Association. They’re compiling that. They’re going to get it to us, and then we’ll have a true dollar amount. I believe the dollar amount is going to be somewhat less than $10 million as of our phone call last week. So we are working through that process with them.”