New Report Looks at Arkansas Policies To Promote Infant, Toddler Health

A new report from the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center examines whether states have implemented certain evidence-based policies to promote infant and young child health, and finds that Arkansas has implemented three of the five policies recommended by the center.

The measures the report credits to Arkansas are expanded health insurance coverage, a reduced administrative burden for nutritional assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and a minimum wage of at least $10 an hour. Arkansas has not implemented the two other policies recommended by the center, paid family leave of at least six weeks and a refundable tax credit for earned income.

The report, now in its third year, provides guidance on investments governments can make to help children thrive. In addition to the five actions listed above, the report proposes strategies to achieve measurable goals, including access to needed services, adequate household resources, and the promotion and responsive childcare in safe environments (see full list).

Arkansas expanded Medicaid eligibility for adults in 2014 and is one of 39 states to have done so. The state also has several policies that reduce the administrative burden for SNAP participants: 12-month recertification renewal, simplified reporting, and an online application for most families. Arkansas also has a minimum wage of $11 an hour; It’s one of two Southern states to have a minimum wage rate above the federal standard of $7.25 an hour (the other is Florida, which has a $10 an hour minimum wage).

The report also suggests six strategies states can adopt to improve children’s health. According to the report, no state has adopted all six, but 21 have adopted one or more of the strategies, namely:

  • Comprehensive screening and connection programs.
  • Childcare grants.
  • Prenatal care in the group.
  • Evidence-based home visiting programs.
  • Early lead.
  • Early Intervention Services.

Snapshot of Arkansas State Strategy:

  • Families in Arkansas had access to one of three evidence-based comprehensive needs screening and connection programs (DULCE, HealthySteps, and Family Connects) in 2021.
    • Only one state (California) offers all three programs to families. Twenty-one states offer at least one of the programs, and 23 states do not offer any of the programs.
  • Arkansas child care reimbursement rates cover 63.7% of the actual cost of center-based infant care.
  • Arkansas served pregnant women in only one prenatal care location in 2021.
    • Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have only a single location for group prenatal care, although several states with smaller populations than Arkansas offer multiple locations, including Maine, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.
  • In 2019, approximately 2.5% of children under the age of 3 in families with incomes below 150% of the federal poverty line (an annual income of less than $37,650 for a family of four) were cared for by home visiting programs.
    • 1% of income-eligible children were cared for in home-calling programs in the top-performing state (Iowa), while only 0.8% of income-eligible children were cared for in the lowest-performing state (Nevada).
  • 7% of income-eligible infants and young children had access to Early Head Start programs in the state in 2019.
    • The best performer was the District of Columbia, where 31% of income-eligible children had access to Early Head Start. In the worst performing state (Tennessee), only 3.8% of eligible children had access to Early Head Start.
  • 9% of the state’s 3- to 3-year-old population received early intervention services over the course of a year (2020-2021), ranking the state last among all states (including the District of Columbia) for this intervention.

Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program, Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me, or ARHOME, includes programmatic efforts to improve maternity care. As part of the Maternal Life360 Home program, hospitals known as Life360 Homes contract with providers to provide home visiting services for women with at-risk pregnancies for up to two years after the birth of a baby. In 2021, 12,500 women in ARHOME were diagnosed with high-risk pregnancies.

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