Zuzanna Sitek

Reporter, Ozarks at Large

Gov. Asa Hutchinson held another coronavirus response briefing this morning to make three announcements. The first was that he is extending the public health emergency declaration for another 30 days until March 31. The continuation of the declaration, Hutchinson said, allows for continued Medicaid reimbursements for telehealth, business liability protections and remote learning options for school districts.

On today's show, we hear about the latest findings in the 2021 Rural Profile of Arkansas Report from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Plus, we speak with attorneys from Legal Aid of Arkansas about the lawsuit the organization filed against the Division of Workforce Services as problems with the state's unemployment benefits system persist. And, we head to the Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre as dancers get ready for their first live performance since the start of the pandemic.

Courtesy / Division of Workforce Services

This week, Legal Aid of Arkansas, a nonprofit that represents low-income Arkansans in civil legal proceedings, filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Commerce and its Division of Workforce Services. According to the organization, DWS has repeatedly refused to turn over records requested through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act that might provide a better understanding of why scores of Arkansans haven't been abele to access unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On today's show, we have highlights from the governor's weekly coronavirus response briefing, which include information about vaccine eligibility for people 65 and older. Plus, we find out how people and animals are fairing in Texas following two winter storms and what organizations on the ground need to help with recovery. And, we have information about a book drive that's being held by the Benton County Sheriff's Office to restock the jail library.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson started his weekly coronavirus response briefing by acknowledging a somber milestone as the U.S. surpassed half a million COVID-19 deaths this week. That total includes more than 5,000 Arkansans. He then announced the state would be expanding vaccination eligibility to people 65 and older. Hutchinson said the state decided to move the group up in the vaccination line from phase 1C to phase 1B because that population has high instances of COVID-19 co-morbidities that lead to worse outcomes.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office is holding a book drive this week to restock its library cart at the jail. The sheriff's office stopped offering books to inmates last year because of ongoing vandalism, according to Lt. Shannon Jenkins. Last month, the ACLU of Arkansas released a statement calling on the sheriff's office to lift its book ban because it violates inmates' First Amendment rights. Books can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Friday, Feb. 26.

On today's show, we check in with Michael Tilley of Talk Business and Politics to discuss this week's headlines out of the Arkansas River Valley. Plus, we hear from clean water advocates and U.S. Sen. John Boozman as the Biden administration orders the Obama-era "Waters of the United States" rule be reinstated. And, we have an excerpt of a panel discussion about the importance of diversity and inclusion as Northwest Arkansas continues to attract more people.

During their regular meeting Thursday, the majority of the Washington County justices of the peace voted against an ordinance that would put a portion of the county's CARES Act reimbursement toward pandemic financial aid programs. Late last year, the county received $4.5 million from the state's allotment of federal relief funding.

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Pipes froze and burst in homes and buildings across Arkansas this week as temperatures plunged into the negatives. Plumbers and insurance agents say they expect the next few weeks to be busy as people file claims for repairs.

On today's show, we speak with several local small business owners who were some of the 30 people who received a fully-funded Kiva loan after applying through the micro-lending platform with the help of the NWA Kiva Hub. Plus, we hear from Arkansas Sen. Jim Hendren who announced this morning that he is leaving the GOP to become an Independent. And, we head to Huntsville where one family had to open up their kitchen to their calves to keep them warm during this week's snow storms and low temperatures.