More than 13,000 recipients of the state’s Arkansas Works program did not meet its work requirement in February, while 6,472 recipients could lose their benefits if they fail to meet the requirement another month this year.
That’s according to a report from the state Department of Human Services released Friday (March 15).
According to DHS, 13,733 did not meet the work requirement last month. Taking into account closures unrelated to compliance, 7,066 recipients have not met the requirement for one month in 2019, while 6,472 have not met it for two months this year.
Under a waiver obtained by the state from the Trump administration, individuals who fail to meet the requirement three months in a calendar year are subject to losing their coverage unless they are granted a good cause request.
DHS reported that 116,229 recipients were subject to the work requirement in February, which is about half of the 233,870 total Arkansas Works population as of Feb. 1. In 2018, non-exempt enrollees ages 30-49 were subject to the requirement. Non-exempt enrollees ages 19-29 are being phased in during the first six months of this year.
DHS said 102,856 recipients met the requirement through work, training or other activities in February.
Of the total number, 52,571 met the requirement because they were employed at least 80 hours per month. Another 16,503 were already exempted through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Some of the other reasons included the following: 14,077 had a dependent child in the home; 10,645 were medically frail; and 1,531 were involved in education and job training activities. Recipients were included in only one group.
Most recipients are exempt from reporting monthly. In February, 1,741 actually reported an activity. Of those, 1,048 were meeting the SNAP work requirement of working 80 hours per month, while 422 were working, 238 were volunteering, 157 were searching for a job, and 88 were involved in education and training. Another six were engaged in job search training, while one was involved in a health education class. Individuals could report more than one activity.
The agency reported that 1,910 of the 18,164 individuals who lost coverage in 2018 for failing to meet the work requirement have regained coverage this year. Of those, all but 11 are in Arkansas Works. The rest are enrolled in traditional Medicaid.
Meanwhile, 10,854 individuals were removed from the rolls for other reasons. Of those, 30% failed to return requested information, 19% had moved out of state or couldn’t be found, and 17% had increased their household income to a point where they were no longer eligible.
DHS along with the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, insurance carriers and the Department of Workforce Services tried to contact recipients by making 43,989 phone calls and sending 90,629 letters in February. They also sent 62,466 emails and 18,018 text messages.
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.
A total of 235,962 individuals were enrolled March 1 in the program. For most recipients, the cost was $625.39 in February.
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.
The case was heard Thursday, March 14 by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, as reported March 15 by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Boasberg said he plans to rule on the Arkansas case and a similar Kentucky case by the end of the month.
If he meets that deadline, it would affect all of the Arkansas Works recipients nearing their third month of failing to meet the requirement.
It also could become an issue as the Arkansas Legislature considers funding DHS’ Division of Medical Services, which administers the program. Opponents in the past have tried to kill the program by denying the division’s funding. Funding bills require 75% support in both the House and the Senate.