The legislature is preparing to convene again on Sept. 29, to redraw boundaries of the four Congressional districts in Arkansas.
In late August the legislature received official data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Using the most recent population figures, legislators will map out four new districts of equal population.
The President Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House sent a schedule to all legislators. The Senate and House Committees on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs will review redistricting bills before the Senate and House vote on them.
The Senate President and the House Speaker cautioned legislators that the Sept. 29 starting date may change.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years, after the Census Bureau releases new population data. Normally, the legislature completes the task during the regular session that begins in January and ends in April, but this year census data was late. The delay affected all 50 states.
There are 435 members of the United States Congress. Arkansas has only four seats in Congress, because of our relatively small size. Tennessee has nine Congressional districts and Texas has 36. Due to its population growth, Texas will gain two more Congressional seats.
After the legislature has finished redistricting, it will officially adjourn the 2021 regular session. We went into extended recess in late April.
The governor has announced that after the work of redistricting is complete and the regular session is officially over, he would call a special session to consider tax cuts. Legislators have been working on measures to lower income taxes.
A separate process of redistricting is taking place. The boundaries of the 135 districts in the state legislature will also be redrawn, by the three-member state Board of Apportionment. They are the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state. Their staff will do much of the heavy lifting.
There are 35 state Senate districts and 100 state House districts.
Arkansas got $173 million in federal relief funding for rental assistance, to help people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are at risk of eviction. It also helps people whose medical bills put them at risk of losing their homes.
So far, $10 million has been awarded, benefiting 3,200 households.
There is an income threshold because the program is meant to help low-income and middle-income taxpayers. The threshold can vary from county to county, depending on the average rent.
The governor announced a change in the application process, in order to ease the awarding of funds.
Previously, the landlord had to sign off on the application, but under the new rules if the landlord doesn’t respond in 10 days the assistance goes directly to the tenant.
The money can also be used to pay utility bills.
The state Human Services Department is handling the grants. Search on the Internet for Arkansas rental assistance, and the first link that pops up will be for the DHS page that explains the process.
Applicants will need to show proof of income.