As many of you know, we’ve wanted to establish a work requirement in Arkansas Works for a long time. We were unable to garner support for this reform under the previous administration in Washington, but the Trump Administration is encouraging states to pursue this important innovation. As a result, we secured federal approval in March, and today, Arkansas has become the first state in the nation to implement a Medicaid work requirement.
Under this new requirement, certain able-bodied working-age adults in Arkansas Works will be required to work, train, volunteer, or go to school at least 80 hours a month in exchange for Medicaid benefits. To put it another way, Arkansas is requiring participants in its Medicaid program to engage in their communities and enjoy the satisfaction of self-sufficiency, while linking them to the work that will help them pursue their independence.
Those who fail to meet the minimum 80 hours per month for three months in a calendar year will lose Medicaid coverage for the rest of that year. We hope affected individuals will take the steps necessary to keep their coverage, and the Department of Human Services and the Department of Workforce Services are working hard to inform enrollees of the new requirement.
I have often said that Arkansans understand the dignity of work, and I believe that. One of the core objectives of the Medicaid program is to help individuals achieve independence. The ability to work full-time is fundamental to self-sufficiency. A healthy, well-trained workforce will attract greater investment in Arkansas and help sustain long-term growth. With our historically strong state economy, now is the right time to prepare these individuals for full-time, year-round work.
A fundamental goal of the work requirement is to help people escape from poverty. Even at minimum wage, a person who works full-time for a full year will earn his way above the federally established poverty level.
With this development, Arkansas has become a national leader in rethinking the delivery of public assistance. Although Arkansas’ work requirement is one of the most stringent in the nation, it is not designed to be punitive, but to better serve the needs of Arkansans by creating incentives for individuals to take steps toward financial independence.
The requirement to work presents an opportunity to learn new skills, broaden horizons, overcome current challenges, experience the dignity of work, build for the future, and give back to the community. The benefit of work is far greater than earning a paycheck. Work has a positive influence on an individual’s physical health, mental health, and general well-being. People who work are healthier and live longer.
People in Arkansas want to work, but they may be hampered by inadequate training and opportunities. A work requirement is designed to increase opportunity, and as I said, the purpose is not punitive.
With the new waiver, Medicaid coverage for adults in Arkansas is more than just access to medical services. It offers a path out of poverty and a path to the dignity of self-sufficiency and achievement.