We the undersigned urge the Arkansas Legislature to address the needs of all Arkansans with disabilities during the remainder of the session.
We want Arkansas to be a place where all individuals are welcome and can receive supports and services. We want to make the Natural State a welcoming place to live.
Specifically, we call upon the legislature to immediately begin addressing issues that will have a positive impact on all Arkansans with disabilities. We can no longer sit and watch the constitutional rights of Arkansans with disabilities be placed in jeopardy.
We are still waiting for the legislature to address these vitally important issues facing Arkansans:
We are still waiting for individuals on the Medicaid waiver waiting list to begin receiving services. Currently, there are 3298 Arkansas families waiting to receive services. In 2017, Public Act 50 diverted $8.5 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to reduce the waiting list by 500. At that time, the Governor stated, “My goal today is to eliminate that waiting list….” In August 2020, the Governor announced that an additional 700 individuals would be removed from the waiting list due to funds accumulated from a premium tax from the Provider-Led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE). At that time, there were 3,500 individuals waiting to receive services. Some of those families have been waiting for the Legislature to act for over 15 years.
We are still waiting for the Arkansas Legislature and Governor to identify permanent funding for the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund. Per Act 661 of 2009, the Legislature created the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund with the goal of dedicating sustainable funding to aid households earning no more than 80% of the area median income. Arkansans looking for housing options have been waiting eleven years for the Legislature and Governor to identify permanent and sustainable revenue.
We are still waiting for Arkansans under guardianship orders to have the right to vote. In the 2020 election Arkansas had the second lowest voter turnout in the nation. Instead of encouraging voter turnout, several bills have been passed that would make it more difficult for voters with disabilities to vote. Passing online voter registration is a great step forward but when bills are passed that limit the days available for early voting, create more stringent ID requirements, and weaken provisional ballots, negatively impact voter turnout in the disability community. Voters under guardianship orders do not have the right to vote unless they petition the court to allow them the ability to vote. This is a change, made in 2001, from the way guardianship worked for decades in Arkansas. Prior to that change individuals under guardianships in Arkansas did not lose their right to vote unless the court was specifically petitioned to do so. Many individuals with disabilities, their families, lawyers, and judges are unaware that the loss of the right to vote is a consequence of being placed under guardianship. The idea that individuals who may require a guardianship based on a need for support with a certain aspect of their life should not be able to exercise their constitutional rights as American citizens is appalling. Individuals under guardianship orders must be allowed the opportunity to cast a ballot alongside their friends, family and other Arkansans.
We are still waiting for Arkansans with disabilities to have appropriate access to a stable and qualified workforce to provide the supports they need to live meaningful lives. We’re waiting for Direct Support Professionals (DSP) to be recognized for the skill and development required to do their jobs well, to receive the education and credentialing resources necessary to provide quality services, and to be paid a living wage. The DSP workforce has long been under-funded and under-resourced, but never has it been clearer how valuable Direct Support Professionals are than during the COVID-19 pandemic. DSPs are essential and have displayed amazing commitment and determination to ensure supports for individuals with disabilities continue while the rest of the world shut down. We continue to ask too much of DSPs and give them too little in return. At a time when so many Arkansans are unemployed, the low wages and limited benefits available to DSPs continue to result in abundant openings and high turnover. We’ve neglected this vital workforce for too long. We are still waiting for meaningful initiatives that will provide stability, opportunity, and quality to disability services.
We are still waiting for the legislature to improve licensing standards for psychiatric residential treatment facilities. Arkansas continues to have one of the lowest licensing standards in the country for these facilities. As a result of these low standards and the state’s inability to hold facilities accountable, Arkansas receives youths from other states. A social media campaign in November 2020 was developed to highlight the unsafe conditions and practices that occur behind their doors. Yet, the Legislature and Governor have not responded in this legislative session to ensure youth entrusted into the care of these private facilities are safe.
We are still waiting for the legislature to pass meaningful hate crimes legislation. We were encouraged to see an early push by a bipartisan group of legislators to pass hate crimes legislation that would create a sentence enhancement for certain crimes committed against a person based on, among other factors, disability. Arkansas is one of only three states without such a law. Governor Hutchinson, several major corporations, and community groups all backed the bill. The fact that this bill has been shelved is very disturbing to the community of people with disabilities and advocates. The disability community has long been a target of those who would seek to abuse and exploit us. We are far from a monolithic community. People with disabilities are Black, white, and all colors in between. We are represented within every religion, every ethnicity and national origin. We are homeless. We are straight and gay. And yes, people with disabilities are also trans. We stand with those communities because we are those communities.
Enough is enough. We call upon the Legislature and Governor to begin immediately addressing the needs of all individuals in the state. We call on you to use the time that remains in this session to do the job that you were elected to do. Keep these real problems of people with disabilities in the forefront of your thoughts. Make the lives of all Arkansans better.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center
Arkansas Disability Policy Consortium
Arkansas Governor’s Commission for People with Disabilities
Arkansas Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities
Arkansas Independent Living Council
Arkansas Parent Advisory Council Inc., Michelle Siemiller, President
Arkansas People First
Arkansas Support Network
Arkansas Waiver Association
Community of Champions
Disability Rights Arkansas
Fort Smith Housing Authority
Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas
Mainstream Center for Independent Living
Partner’s Community Advisory Committee
Partners for Inclusive Communities
Sources for Community Independent Living
Spa Area Independent Living Center – Hot Springs
Spa Area Independent Living Center – Southeast