Arkansas leaders say feds are delaying efforts to address disability services backlog

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was recognized by the Arkansas Developmental Disabilities Provider Association for increasing funding for disability services.

He accepted a plaque from the organization Wednesday and thanked members of the Arkansas General Assembly for their help in addressing a backlog in the Community & Employment Support (CES) program. It offers home and community-based services to help Arkansans with disabilities.

In this year’s fiscal session of the legislature, Hutchinson included about $37 million to address a backlog with the CES waiver program. Despite allocating that money, he says there are still roadblocks to clearing the backlog.

In an interview with KUAR News, Hutchinson said the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is delaying the state’s attempts at reducing the backlog by not approving a request for additional waivers. He says over regulation and government bureaucracy is drawing out the approval process.

Hutchinson said he has called U.S Secretary of Health Xaiver Becerra about the delay. State officials have also contacted members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation.

In December, CMS approved 200 waivers after the governor announced his plan to address the backlog.

CMS didn’t respond to a call requesting comment about the delay.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), the CES waivers cost about $300 million each year with the federal government funding 71% and the state funding 28% of the program. Currently, the waiver serves approximately 5,400 children and adults, with 3,070 people on the waiting list.

Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, who is a member of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, says it would be difficult to address the CES backlog without CMS providing the state with federal matching funds.

“If they don’t approve it then we’d have to come back and look and see if we can do it, which would be a little bit of a challenge,” Hammer said. “I know we have a surplus building out there, but that’s one-time money and it’s not ongoing money, so we’d have to be careful. We don’t want to create a conundrum that later could come back and bite us.”

Sara Lasure, communications director for U.S Sen. John Boozman, said Hammer has been in contact with Boozman about the delay with the CMS waiver.

Hutchinson said he is confident that CMS will approve the waiver by July 1.

The governor previously allocated tobacco settlement funds to add 500 additional waivers in 2017, then another 700 waivers in 2020 through a new tax in the provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE) program.

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