News » The Week That Was

Work requirement approved

A school safety commission NOT about guns and Finese 2 Tymes to federal prison.


Quote of the week

"This is not a gun control commission. It's not addressing school safety from that standpoint. This is a school safety commission. And I've said repeatedly that I want to address things that we can agree upon and that are obvious will make a difference. So the debate will continue, I've stated my position, that I don't think further gun control is a solution to school safety." — Governor Hutchinson, announcing the creation of the Arkansas School Safety Commission, which will produce two reports, the first due July 1 and the second Nov. 30. The commission will consider mental health, school security plans and how schools partner with local law enforcement.

Work requirement approved

The Trump administration has approved a waiver to federal Medicaid rules that will allow Arkansas to impose a work requirement on beneficiaries of Arkansas Works, the program providing health insurance to 285,000 low-income Arkansans under the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. Under the new rules, which will take effect this summer, beneficiaries ages 19-49 will be required to prove they either work or attend school for at least 80 hours each month or else meet one of several exemptions, including categories such as a chronic illness, a catastrophic event, enrollment in a drug or alcohol abuse treatment program or caring for a dependent child or incapacitated person. Students and people receiving unemployment benefits will be exempt.

The federal government has not approved another waiver sought by the state that would lower the income eligibility threshold from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. That change would remove an estimated 63,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. The Trump administration, trying to destroy Obamacare, might be disinclined to award the waiver to Arkansas for fear it would incentivize the 20 states that have not yet joined the program to sign up.

The new work requirement will require beneficiaries to regularly document their status with the Department of Human Services; those out of compliance for three months will not be eligible to rejoin the program until the following year.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University, told the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network that the Arkansas waiver was "fundamentally misguided."

"Everybody agrees that it would be great to help folks get better-paying jobs so that they can move onto private health insurance, but there's really nothing in this proposal that's likely to make this happen. The federal government is not providing funding for job-training services; they're not providing funding for child care or transportation or addressing other barriers that folks might have to getting a job or getting a better job."

Finese to federal prison

Ricky Hampton, the rapper known as Finese 2Tymes, who was performing in a downtown club July 1 when shooting that broke out left 25 people wounded, entered a negotiated guilty plea in federal court this week to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He'll be sentenced later. The plea agreement says the sentencing guideline recommendation will be enhanced because he is a previous felon and because the firearm he possessed was capable of holding a large magazine. He'll get credit in sentencing for taking responsibility. The agreement also specifies that he must forfeit two pistols. Hampton was arrested in Birmingham, Ala., the day after the Power Ultra Lounge shooting in Little Rock. The charge was related to a shooting at a club in Forrest City.

ADC closes prison units to aid staff shortage

The Arkansas Department of Correction has announced the closure of two of its smaller units because of staffing concerns.

The 27 correctional officers at the temporarily closed Cummins Modular Unit in Grady, a 300-bed minimum-security facility for men, and the 25 officers at the Tucker Reentry Center located in Tucker, a 124-bed minimum-security facility for women, were transferred to larger units with greater needs.

Director Wendy Kelley said in a memo provided to the Board of Corrections that "staff levels have reached a level that requires immediate action" in justifying the decision.

In the memo, Kelley said those units receiving transfers have large gaps in staffing: The Varner Unit in Grady has 97 officer vacancies, the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker has 57 officer vacancies, and the Tucker Unit (sometimes called "Little Tucker" to distinguish itself from the Tucker Max Unit) has 57 vacancies. She added that overall 560 of 2,484 correctional officer positions are vacant.

As the Arkansas Times has reported, the ADC has struggled to retain guards despite a pay bump last summer. Thirty-eight percent of the correctional officers hired by the Arkansas Department of Correction in 2017 left the department. Former guards said the problem was the prison culture, not the pay.

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