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LITTLE ROCK -- The state is helping people who have trouble paying their rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

People affected by the pandemic are eligible for help if their household income is less than 80% of the median income in their area. They can qualify for two-and-a-half months of rent under the newly created Fresh Start program.

Money comes from about $10 million in relief grants received by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee. It will be administered by the Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association (ACAA).

To get help, apply to your local Community Action Agency, which are non-profit organizations. There are 15 in Arkansas and they serve all 75 counties in the state.

The CARES Act Steering Committee comprises top state officials appointed by the governor. The group considers how best to allocate about $1.25 billion in federal relief funds approved by Congress at the beginning of the pandemic.

The state Secretary of Commerce, who is over the AEDC, said that short-term rental assistance provided through the Fresh Start program would benefit both renters and landlords.

A recent survey by the United States Census Bureau estimated that as many as 139,000 Arkansas households are in danger of not being able to pay rent, specifically because of financial hardships created by the pandemic.

If you're interested in applying for rental assistance, a list of community action agencies and their contact information is available on the ACAA website. It is at acaa.org.

Click on the tab first tab on the front page of the site, which is labeled "Emergency Services." It opens to a new page, and Rent Payment Assistance Information is the top tab on the new page. If you click on it, you will see a list of the 15 community action agencies in Arkansas and their contact information. It also lists the counties that each agency serves.

College Athletics

State-supported colleges and universities spent $191.5 million last year on athletics, which was 4.8% below the amount they spent the previous year.

State law requires the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to set uniform standards for institutions to report athletic expenditures, so that comparisons are fair.

The bulk of the money spent on athletics was generated by income from athletic events, such as ticket sales and souvenir sales. That category generated $115 million, or more than 59% of the total.

Student fees for athletics generated more than $26 million, which amounted to 13.5% of the total spent on sports.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville accounted for the lion's share of athletic spending, about $117 million. Arkansas State University at Jonesboro was second, spending about $21 million on athletics last year.

The University of Central Arkansas at Conway spent about $13 million on athletics, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock spent $9 million, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff spent $7.8 million and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville spent about $6 million.

Seven of the state's two-year colleges spent $1.7 million on athletics.

About 8% of athletic department spending came from transfers from colleges and universities' education and general accounts. That amounted to $15.7 million.

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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Legislative Council.

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