Gov. Asa Hutchinson, at a news conference on Tuesday, announced that he has directed the Arkansas Department of Commerce to expedite unemployment benefits to assist Arkansans whose employment status may be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under current Arkansas law, those who who claim unemployment insurance must wait one week, which is not counted as a week of unemployment. Hutchinson, however, has directed the Arkansas Department of Commerce to waive the waiting period. This directive will allow the department to pay claims more quickly.

Hutchinson also directed the Department of Commerce to waive current work-search requirements for 30 days, allowing the unemployed to receive benefits without seeking other employment. This exception applies only to those employed by businesses that are temporarily closed with plans to reopen.

In a third action, Hutchinson directed the Department of Commerce to allow the unemployed to apply for benefits online or by telephone rather than in person in a further effort to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“These important changes will allow Arkansans impacted by COVID-19 to file unemployment insurance claims, register for work, and seek job-placement assistance in a timely manner while also protecting ADWS employees and mitigating the spread of the virus,” Governor Hutchinson said.

Click HERE to find an Arkansas Workforce Center Location near you, or visit ezarc.adws.arkansas.gov to complete your application online.

Hutchinson said the number of confirmed cases in Arkansas remains at 22 which was reported on Monday.

“But we have to note that we do not have the testing that we need to be really confident that we don’t have a greater issue than what we have,” Hutchinson said. “As testing increases, it is likely that the number of cases the number of cases that have been identified will increase as well.”

He also cautioned against panic buying.

“We need to eliminate panic buying,” he said. “We need to be calm about that and recognize that the food supply is going to continue; the fuel supply will continue, and so, sure you want to have adequate reserves in the home, but we don’t need to engage in panic buying.”

Schools, which are under mandate to be closed through spring break are expected to reopen on March 30, according to Hutchinson.

Watch Tuesday’s press conference here:

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