LITTLE ROCK — A waiting list for home-and community-based services for the developmentally disabled has been reduced by 500 thanks to a new revenue stream that was created earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Little Rock Rotary Club on Tuesday.
Hutchinson also took questions on Donald Trump, efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and surging gun violence in Little Rock.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers approved a plan by Hutchinson to devote $8.5 million a year from the state’s 1999 settlement with tobacco companies to reducing the waiting list, which had grown to 3,000 people, some of whom had been on the list since 2007.
Hutchinson said at the time the state would combine that $8.5 million a year with federal matching funds to generate about $29 million a year for services for the disabled. The services are going first to people who have been on the list the longest.
The money previously funded the AR Health Networks, an insurance program that ended in 2013 when Arkansas expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
“Hopefully that 500 will expand,” Hutchinson told reporters after his talk to the Rotary Club at the Clinton Presidential Library. “We are continuing to look for additional ways that we can reduce that list further. This is the first time any progress has made on that list in probably close to a decade, and it’s a significant first step forward, but we recognize more needs to be done.”
A reporter asked Hutchinson about Donald Trump Jr.’s acknowledgment Tuesday that he eagerly said yes to an offer of help from Russia for his father’s presidential campaign, which appears to contradict President Trump’s repeated claims that his campaign had no contact with Russia and that any hint of a connection was “fake news.”
Hutchinson, who supported Trump in the November election and is the titular head of the state Republican Party, said, “I think that’s a Washington story line that I don’t need to weigh into. I know that … Congress will take a look into this.
“Whenever I see what’s happening in the world today, I’m much more concerned about the future and the challenges of North Korea and what we’re doing in Syria versus the past,” he said.
Asked about efforts in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Hutchinson told reporters he has “a continuing dialog” with Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton on the issue.
Hutchinson has expressed concerns about House and Senate bills that would massively shift Medicaid costs to the states.
“I know there’s a lot of discussions that are going on on maybe a third way or a different approach to it,” he said Tuesday.
President Trump recently suggested that Congress could repeal the federal health-care law now and decide how to replace it later. Hutchinson said he would not favor that approach.
“I’m not just for repealing it and then we’ll figure out what to do down the road,” Hutchinson said. “That I see as very unstabling to our medical community and to our citizens that rely upon some continuity of care.”
Hutchinson told the Rotary Club his recently announced multi-jurisdictional investigative team will work to keep Little Rock’s streets safe. Twenty-eight people were injured in a July 1 mass shooting at a downtown nightclub, and multiple drive-by shootings have been reported in the city recently.
“I do believe it is to the point that we need to have an enforcement effort to try to keep our streets safe, our communities safe and our children safe,” Hutchinson said.
The governor said the team is “not a task force” formed to think about the issue but an investigative group that will assist the city of Little Rock in taking dangerous people off the streets.
Hutchinson said there is much that needs to be done in education, job training and mental-health services, “but it starts with enforcement and safe streets.”