LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House on Thursday approved a proposal to use some of the state’s tobacco settlement money to reduce the number of developmentally disabled people on a waiting list for home- and community-based services.
In a 93-0 vote, the House approved House Bill 1033 by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley. The bill goes to the Senate.
The measure would devote $8.5 million a year from the state’s 1999 settlement with tobacco companies to reducing the waiting list. About 3,000 people are on the list, some of them since 2007.
Combined with federal matching funds, the bill would allow the state to use about $29 million a year to reduce the waiting list by between 500 and 900 people, Mayberry said. The people who have been on the list the longest would be the first to receive services, he said.
“We’ve just not been doing what we need to do, quite honestly, as a state,” Mayberry said.
The money previously funded the AR Health Networks, an insurance program that ended in 2013 when Arkansas expanded its Medicaid program. The bill is part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s agenda for the session.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said he was concerned about the appearance of the legislation being directed toward “personal circumstances.”
Mayberry said, “If you’re referring to me personally, Rep. Walker, yes, we do have a daughter with developmental disabilities. We are not on that waiting list. Our family is not. I do know many families who are on that waiting list, and they’ve been there for up to 10 years.”
Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, who uses a wheelchair because of an accident, called the bill “a great first step” toward eliminating the waiting list.
Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, said the state risks being sued if it does not provide the services to the developmentally disabled. She said there is some “angst” about using money that formerly funded a health insurance plan when the Affordable Care Act may be facing repeal, but she said there are many things that would have to be reconsidered in that event.
“This is absolutely the right thing to do for these people,” Ferguson said.