LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed Tuesday that the state tap into $8.5 million in unused money from the 1999 settlement with tobacco companies to provide more services to the developmentally disabled.
Speaking to the Tobacco Settlement Commission, the Republican said he’ll ask lawmakers next year to redirect the money from a health insurance program that ended in 2013 when Arkansas expanded Medicaid. The money would provide home- and community-based services to between 500 and 900 people, he said, cutting a waitlist that has grown to more than 3,000 people over the years. Some people have been on the waiting list since 2007, Hutchinson said.
“This is a significant statement of the people of Arkansas that those who are suffering from disabilities … that we care about them and we want to provide services for them that would provide the level of care that’s needed but also can provide some level of independence as well,” Hutchinson told the commission. “It’s been far too long since we’ve addressed it and it’s been a goal of mine.”
Arkansas was among 46 states that sued tobacco companies in the 1990s for both restraints against the industry and monetary damages for money spent to treat smoking-related illnesses. Under a multistate settlement, Arkansas received $62 million a year from the tobacco firms and voters in 2000 approved a measure directing the money toward health programs.
Hutchinson will need the support of at least two-thirds of the House and Senate to redirect the money, which he said would increase annual funding by $29 million when counting matching federal Medicaid funds.
This is the second time in a year that Hutchinson has proposed a way to cut the waitlist for these services. Previously, he suggested shifting some Medicaid services to private firms, which he said would create savings that could be used to cut the waiting list in half. But he dropped that proposal after facing resistance from lawmakers and has not said whether he’ll try again with the idea next session.
“There may be some opportunities for that separately, but this separates the debate and has hopefully a noncontroversial source of funds that is real, that is tangible,” Hutchinson told reporters.
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