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State Capitol Week in Review – February 19, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature completed the first week of the 2022 fiscal session, approving budgets for numerous state agencies and advancing reforms of public health insurance systems.

For almost a year a group of legislators has been working on the complex task of reforming state employee and teacher health insurance systems, which have experienced financial problems to the extent that lawmakers last year replaced their governing board.

One goal of the reforms is to prevent spikes in health insurance premiums that would eat up much of the pay raises that teachers and public employees get. In the past, the state has had to shore up the systems’ finances with extra funding in order to avoid sharp premium increases.

Another goal is to provide legislators with more oversight authority over the systems. Another proposed bill would require fiscal impact statements when benefit changes are proposed, to avoid unexpected consequences.

Other measures would require the systems to increase reserve funds, so they’re better able to remain financially solvent. They would spell out the financial thresholds that would require members to increase contributions into the systems.

One bill modifies retirees’ eligibility for health insurance, requiring them to have participated for at least five years in order to get benefits.

Another bill sets new rules for health insurance coverage of morbid obesity through the use of bariatric surgery.

Most of the health insurance bills have an emergency clause, so they will become law on the day they are signed by the governor.

The Senate made excellent progress on a long list of appropriation bills that will set budgets for state agencies and determine how much state aid will go to public schools and institutions of higher education.

One reason the budget bills moved so swiftly through the legislative process is that lawmakers began working on them months ago. The legislature held budget hearings in January, but all last year lawmakers met regularly to monitor state government spending. They also met regularly to review state agency personnel decisions and transfers of money within departments.

Homeowner Assistance

Arkansas homeowners can now apply for assistance if they have experienced financial hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The state has $54 million to award people struggling to make mortgage payments or utility bills.

The program is administered by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) and it is called the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF).

Eligibility depends on your income and where you live. To apply, and to determine whether or not you’re eligible, go to the HAF page on the ADFA web site. Search the Internet for arkansashaf and you’ll get to the ADFA site.

The program is for homeowners who have lost their jobs or businesses due to the pandemic, and is meant to prevent foreclosures or delinquent payments. Homeowners can also use grants to stay current on their utility bills.

In addition to the web site, you can call ADFA at 888.698.0964 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.


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