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The Insider March 17 

Wal-Mart welfare Several states have compiled figures on the numbers of Wal-Mart workers who receive public assistance. Critics of Wal-Mart say the figures illustrate how the public subsidizes Wal-Mart’s low wages, particularly through Medicaid coverage. Add Arkansas to the supporting evidence. More Wal-Mart employees are on public assistance rolls in Arkansas than at any other employer. The Department of Human Services, responding to a Freedom of Information request by the Arkansas Times, broke down how many of the 350,000 employed people receiving public benefits — food stamps, transitional employment assistance and Medicaid — are employed at the state’s top 10 employers. DHS cautions that the numbers on assistance by employer may not be precise and it would not break down participation by program. But here are the results: 1) state of Arkansas, 3,004; 2) Wal-Mart, 3,971; 3) Tyson, 1,738; 4) federal government, not available; 5) J.B. Hunt, 48; 6) Baptist Health, 335; 7) Triad Hospitals, 3; 8) Alltel, 54; 9) Pilgrim’s Pride, 488; 10) Whirlpool, 57. All these employ at least 2,500 people in Arkansas. Wal-Mart employs 44,638 in Arkansas, so 8.9 percent of its employees receive public assistance. The state has 51,405 employees, which means 5.8 percent are on public assistance. The DHS, however, also checked Kroger and Target, two competing retail chains and found Wal-Mart only marginally worse than those two -- with Target showing 8.6 percent of its 1,200 employees on welfare in Arkansas and Kroger 8.1 of its 3,200 employees. Neither of those chains, however, has anything but retail stores in the state. Wal-Mart has a large continent of white collar workers at its Bentonville headquarters that presumably make better wages than store clerks. ON-LINE UPDATE: This item has been updated since we went to press with a change in the number of Wal-Mart employees and comments from the retailer. Read it here on the Arkansas Blog. White line fever No, if you happened to drive on the I-30 frontage roads near the Saline County line Tuesday morning, you weren’t seeing things. Due to what Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department officials called an “equipment malfunction,” there was a wavering, spray-painted line running for four miles down the blacktop. Farrell Wilson, special projects coordinator with the AHTD, said the wayward stripe got put down Sunday night. “They were working on some striping on the eastbound frontage road and the driver of the equipment was circling back around and trying to go back to the beginning of the job area he was working on,” Wilson said. “Somehow there was an equipment malfunction, a timer or something, and he didn’t realize that the machine and the pump were turned on.” Wilson said AHTD crews were hard at work removing the extra stripe, using grinders and sandblasters to erase their mistake. Going in to Battle Christopher Battle, a former top aide to Asa Hutchinson, this week announced that he will resign as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris and move to Little Rock. (Yes, that Katherine Harris, who was Florida’s secretary of state during the 2000 election.) The Hill newspaper said Battle “cited family reasons.” He has a newborn and family in Arkansas. However, he was Hutchinson’s top communications officer on Capitol Hill and at the Drug Enforcement Agency. (Before that, he worked as an assistant editorial page editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.) The timing of Battle’s decision to leave Harris’ office — just days after Hutchinson announced his candidacy for Arkansas governor — suggests that he might be heading home to work on the gubernatorial campaign. UPDATE: After this item went to press, we learned that Battle had been named campaign manager for Hutchinson. Hillcrest happenings Things we wouldn’t know if we didn’t attend the Hillcrest Residents Association meeting: Coming soon is a serious effort to develop an “overlay” planning district for Hillcrest. This could include guidance on the density and scale of future development. A previous effort to have a local ordinance historic district in the neighborhood failed and left many angry neighbors. The new effort is certain to engage the politically active neighborhood. Central Arkansas Water Commissioner Jane Dickey, who doesn’t talk to the press, does talk to the League of Women Voters, of which she’s a member. She’s been lobbying for league support of her resolution that the commission compromise with Deltic Timber (a client of Dickey’s law firm) on development issues in the Lake Maumelle watershed so Deltic will pull down its legislation to destroy the water utility’s condemnation powers. No word yet on what the League will decide. Against, we hope. The moratorium Dickey seeks will raise the cost of condemning the Deltic land plus give Deltic time to get more support in the legislature to avoid condemnation altogether.
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