Favorite

Merry Christmas, but what about the new year? 

Legislators and the governor rushed to get before TV cameras last week at a feel-good media event.

Legislators and the governor rushed to get before TV cameras last week at a feel-good media event.

They'd brought Christmas gifts to distribute to the 4,600 or so Arkansas children in foster care.

Leave it to me to be the Grinch.

Politicians beamed in camera lights the same week the governor rolled out yet another task force, this one aimed at making the Department of Human Services "more efficient."

This behemoth of an agency, mostly financed by U.S. dollars, has a nearly impossible task of serving the vulnerable young, the infirm elderly, the physically and mentally challenged, the sick and the poor. Undoubtedly, there is waste. Undoubtedly, there is some duplication. Indisputably, mistakes sometimes are made, sometimes with awful human results.

But the continuing theme of Gov. Asa Hutchinson is that the agency is rife with overspending. The state can do more with less. Already, children are suffering from our current effort. The number of children in foster care is rising. Some case workers have been added, but their number remains far below a sufficient level and the pay contributes to the lack of allure for an already difficult job.

The same week, another Hutchinson task force also recommended the continuation of Arkansas's use of Obamacare to expand Medicaid coverage for poor working families. But a condition for Hutchinson will be to make the program more punitive and to effectively drive some people off coverage, whether with new fees or other disincentives. He also promises to cut some $800 million from existing state programs for the needy — not because the money isn't available, but just, well, because. Inevitably, some share of those savings won't be in loss of profits for nursing homes or salaries for health care workers, but services lost to families least able to find other ways to obtain them.

The legislature learned, too, last week of the rising number of mothers who've given birth to children who tested positive for drugs (two-thirds of them marijuana). This new law can lead to removal of still more children from homes, in theory when other complicating factors are found. The randomness is striking to me. Alcohol testing is not done on newborns, by the way.

When you find sick and abused children, you find disproportionate poverty. So the Christmas gifts rang somewhat hollow to me from politicians who left the bottom 40 percent of wage earners in Arkansas out of the 2015 income tax cut and who also rejected a state earned income tax credit for poor working families.

Against all this is a backdrop of raging debate about child protective services. Cases abound of system failures, none more high-profile and politically tinged than that of Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), who gave away adopted children to the home of a sexual predator. Still, some legislators argue that the state moves too aggressively in removing children and that parents are punished, for example, for education deficiencies that aren't of their making.

Culturally, Arkansas is more inclined to turn to paddles and punishment than therapy and education when it comes to children in need. We are a national leader in defense and use of battery of children (corporal punishment). Sunday, Chad Day of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote of the appalling number of judges who lock up young status offenders with young criminal offenders as a recipe for dealing with truancy, parental disobedience and runaways.

So, thanks for the Barbie dolls and basketballs, politicians. But what you do the other 364 days of the year is a whole lot more meaningful. If only the cameras were always rolling.

Favorite

Speaking of Department Of Human Services, Asa Hutchinson

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Cotton seeks friendlies for town hall

    Is Tom Cotton working to pack his town hall Wednesday in Springdale with fans. So says one source.
    • Feb 21, 2017
  • Campus gun bill clears committee

    The so-called compromise amendment that will allow anyone 25 or older with a training certificate carry a concealed weapon on public college campuses was approved in a Senate committee this afternoon.
    • Feb 21, 2017
  • DiPippa to be interim dean at UALR Law School

    UALR Chancellor Andrew Rogerson told staff today that law professor John DiPippa would serve as interim dean of the Bowen School of Law while a search is made for a permanent dean. The appointment takes effect in July. The search should begin in the fall.
    • Feb 21, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Home again

    The plan, formulated months ago, was this: Ellen and I were going to go to Washington for inauguration festivities, then fly out the morning after the balls for Panama City and a long planned cruise to begin with a Panama Canal passage.
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Praising Asa

    Let us now praise the governor for a starkly moderate record, at least in comparison with other red-state executives.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

"Locally Labeled" passport expands to accommodate booming brew scene

"Locally Labeled" passport expands to accommodate booming brew scene

As if great beer weren't reward enough, you can earn prizes for sampling local craft beverages

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28  
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation