Almost 9,000 fail to comply with Arkansas Works work requirement in January

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 745 views 

Almost 9,000 Arkansas Works recipients did not meet work requirements in January, meaning they could lose their benefits if they fail to comply two more months in 2019.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced Friday (Feb. 15) that 8,895 current recipients had not complied as of Feb. 7. A total of 10,258 did not meet the requirement, but the rest of the cases were closed for reasons unrelated to compliance.

A total of 105,158 recipients were subject to the work requirement in January, the first month that some recipients ages 19-29 were affected. Other recipients in that age group will be phased in through June. Recipients ages 30-49 were subject to the requirement in 2018.

The state was paying $622.51 in insurance premiums for most of the enrollees, an increase from $566.67 the previous month. The higher rates reflected changes to insurance premiums and cost sharing that occurs at the beginning of each calendar year, said DHS spokesperson Marci Manley. Most of the costs are paid with federal funds.

A total of 94,900 individuals met the requirement by working 80 hours per month or engaging in other activities, or by being exempt. The total Arkansas Works population as of Jan. 1 was 234,400.

In January, 50,107 recipients met the requirement by being employed 80 hours per month. Another 14,458 were exempt because they already were exempt in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Another 12,337 were exempt because they had a dependent child at home, and 10,257 were exempt because they were medically frail.

Most recipients were exempt from reporting their activities because they have previously shown they are in compliance. Of the 105,158 recipients subject to the requirement, 1,573 actually reported activities.

Those included the following: work, 322; education and training, 74; volunteering, 178; and job searching, 116. Another four reported job search training, while one reported taking a health education class. Individuals could report more than one activity.

Of the 10,258 who did not meet the requirement, 10,117 reported no activities while 141 reported some activities.

The number of Arkansas Works participants increased from 234,400 at the beginning of January to 245,857 at the end of the month. On Feb. 1, it fell to 233,870.

A total of 13,503 Arkansas Works cases closed in January, none because of the requirement. The largest percentage, 32%, closed because they failed to return requested information. Another 25% closed because the client could not be located or had moved out of state. Thirteen percent of the cases closed because the household increased its income.

In 2018, 18,164 enrollees lost coverage for failing to meet the requirement. Of those, 1,452 of those recipients gained coverage in 2019, including 1,441 of them in Arkansas Works.

DHS, insurance carriers and others tried to contact recipients in January by making 36,332 phone calls, writing 124,721 letters, writing 61,441 emails, and sending 7,144 text messages. They also made 164 social media posts and purchased advertising slots.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013. It was created after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states could choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid populations under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Many Republican-leaning states chose not to expand their populations. Arkansas did, but instead of simply expanding Medicaid, it used mostly federal funds to purchase private health insurance for those lower-income individuals.

After Gov. Asa Hutchinson was elected, he embraced the program, helping it each year attain the 75% support required in both the Arkansas House and Senate for funding. Some lawmakers remain skeptical of the program.

Nine Arkansans have filed suit in U.S. District Court, saying the federal executive branch bypassed the legislative process and acted on its own to “comprehensively transform” Medicaid. The plaintiffs are represented by Legal Aid of Arkansas, the National Health Law Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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