A day after the release of the Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an annual reminder that Arkansas children suffer more than those in most other states, Governor Hutchinson held a press conference to trumpet the modest steps his administration is taking to address child welfare and maternal health care.
It’s hard to find fault in any of the initiatives Hutchinson described, but on a day when the legislature is set to consider tax cuts that will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Arkansans and reduce state revenue next year by some $500 million (and many millions more in coming years) thanks to a $1.6 billion surplus, it was stark to hear Hutchinson describe programs that, relative to those numbers, are close to rounding errors. I’m behind on my Bible study, but I seem to remember a verse along the lines of “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The most significant program Hutchinson pointed to isn’t new. The state has a pending waiver request with the Biden administration to allow Medicaid to pay for intensive home visits with up to 5,000 mothers before and after they give birth. Hutchinson and State Medicaid Director Dawn Stehle said the feds have given indication that they’ll approve it, possibly by September. The state’s share of the cost would be $5.5 million annually. The services would be coordinated by rural hospitals. “The goal is to reduce the number of children requiring neonatal care and child mortality,” Hutchinson said. If the Biden administration grants the waiver, the legislature will have to approve the program. The feds would pay $13 million.
The state is also seeking federal approval to allow traditional Medicaid coverage of pregnant women up to 212% of the federal poverty line, a move that would impact as many as 2,000 mothers, Hutchinson said. It would provide a full complement of health care services to mothers, including behavioral care. The state’s share of the program would be $300,000.
*Hutchinson said he was using $1.7 million from rainy day funds to begin making foster care payments for relatives or folks who take foster children provisionally. The state had previously only paid traditional foster parents. The monthly payments average $455 per month. That needs to go up, Hutchinson said. DHS will propose a 10% increase for the fiscal year 2024, he said.
*The Department of Health has a program where some 450 staff or contractors make home visits to some 2,000 at-risk families throughout the state. Hutchinson said he was allocating $350,000 to provide the home visitors with specific training to help them identify mental health needs in the at-risk families.
*The health department has created a pregnancy resource hotline, 1-855-ARKMOMS to help expecting or new mothers connect with services. Cassie Cochran of the Department of Human Services said there are a lot of Arkansans who qualify for WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, but don’t take advantage of it. She expects the hotline to help increase eligible the number of residents who utilize the program.
Hutchinson said most of these efforts preceded the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, but that the ruling added some urgency to provide increased support and investment. This ain’t gonna cut it.
A PS FROM MAX: I was outraged. This is cover for the incalculable damage being done to Arkansas by its cruel, no-exception abortion ban.
Hutchinson himself was forced to acknowledge at the outset of his remarks that some of the money was needed because of an expected increase in risky pregnancies by women who otherwise might have had an abortion. I also found almost ghoulish his promise to encourage adoption.
An extension of Medicaid coverage for post-natal care might not be a sure thing. Texas has run into difficulties in extending post-partum care under Medicaid because of a concern that under the Texas ban money could NOT be spent on women who had an abortion. Women who’ve had miscarriages might need care, too.
Question: Why wasn’t this done before? Why does the state have one of the highest rejection rates for cash aid to needy families with children? Why not propose some maternal and fetal health exemptions to the state anti-abortion law to prevent risky pregnancies rather than mandating birth?
The governor also spun the recent alarming study on child health in Arkansas — the state dropped to the bottom 10 in the rankings. He said Arkansas had improved in some categories.