Governor Asa Hutchinson’s address for December 15

Regan Reaves and her parents, Wendie and Wade, are a reminder on the importance of what we do in government and how it impacts real lives every day.

I met the Reaves this week at the quarterly meeting of the Tobacco Settlement Commission. Regan was waiting for me in the entrance to the Main Street Mall Building in downtown Little Rock.

She and her parents attended the meeting to thank the commissioners for their support of the idea to use money from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to provide specialized services for developmentally and intellectually disabled Arkansans.

Regan’s challenge is neurological migration disorder. Her doctors made that diagnosis when she was 13 months old after they noticed that she was not developing at a typical pace.

Regan is 19 now. She is a student at Bryant High School. Her disorder has presented many challenges for the Reaves. Her parents can’t leave her at home alone. Regan struggles with the day-to-day tasks that most of us do without thinking. Her parents help her brush her teeth and wash her hair.

About seven years ago, the Reaves applied for assistance through the Community and Employment Supports waiver, which provides at-home help for teaching independent-living skills.

When I became governor, there were more than 3,000 people on the waiting list and some had been there more than eight years. That was not acceptable. I asked DHS Director Cindy Gillespie for guidance. She proposed that the state transfer money from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to provide services for those who had been waiting the longest. I thought this was a great idea.

In September 2016, members of the settlement commission approved the idea, which allowed us to proceed to the legislature. Representative Andy Mayberry introduced the bill in the House, and Senator Jason Rapert carried it in the Senate. After both houses passed the bill during the 91st General Assembly, I signed Act 50 into law.

We have now moved 500 people off the waiting list; 201 of those people, including Regan, already are receiving services that are dramatically improving their lives.

Regan is learning to care for herself with the help of a supportive-living provider who is trained to teach developmentally disabled individuals the skills they need to become independent. She spends about three hours a day at the Reaves’ home. Wendie was near tears on Tuesday as she and Wade talked about the difference these services are making for Regan as well as the new freedom it allows them to tend to other family matters.

This is a great step forward in our effort to ensure that all the developmentally and intellectually disabled individuals in Arkansas have access to the services they need to reach their full potential. But there are still more than twenty-six-hundred people on the waiting list, and my goal is to entirely eliminate the backlog. A portion of the premium tax revenue from Medicaid’s new provider-led model of care will help us increase the rate of progress toward that goal.

After my chat with Regan and her parents, Regan and I exchanged a high-five, and then we went into the conference room to thank the commissioners for their support. The smile on Regan’s face probably was all the thanks they needed.

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