Joint Budget Hearings

October 19, 2022

Actions Taken (click each to jump to that discussion)



Dotson: All right. We’ll get this meeting started. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First item on the agenda is DFA Disbursing Officer. I think if you want to come up, we’ll hear the answer to the question that was posed yesterday.  Page 95, members, for anyone searching for your location.  If you would, state your name for the record and you’re recognized.


DFA Disbursing Officer

Babbitt: Thank you. Andy Babbitt, DFA. After the question yesterday, we did some research and some looking. And for the ARP Federal direct appropriation, we believe that we can reduce that down to a total of $4 billion, so reduce that by $600 million on the appropriation for a total of $4 billion. And then for the ARP Federal appropriation, which is the one that comes through Peer and the Steering Committee, we believe we can reduce that down to $1.2 billion, so a reduction of $400 million. So the total reduction, that total appropriation would be $1 billion.


Dotson: So $1 billion total, and you’re totally confident and comfortable in those numbers?


Babbitt: We feel like, based on our business processes and what we’ve seen over the last couple of years that we feel comfortable with those numbers.


Dotson: All right. Since that was my question, currently I don’t see any other members in the queue. I would need a motion for that updated– got a motion for that updated recommendation. We got a second. Any discussion? Oh, okay. So just to reiterate for everybody, they said that $4 billion– on that top line item that’s currently $4.6 billion, we would reduce that to $4 billion. And the second line item that’s currently at $1.6 billion, we’d reduce that to $1.2 billion. And then the total overall would go from $6.2 down to $5.2. Correct?


Babbitt: Yes, sir.


Dotson: Okay. Does that answer that, Mr. Wooten? All right. Got a motion and a second. All in favor, aye. Any opposed? Motion passes. Thank you very much. Moving on to the second agenda item, the Department of Veteran Affairs. Ms. Walls, you are recognized. When you get to the table, state your name for the record and have the department come to the table while we’re listening to that. Thank you.


Veterans Affairs Shared Services

Walls: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m Lilah Walls. And if you’ll turn with me to page 471, we’re going to talk about the Department of Veterans Affairs this morning. This agency assists Arkansas veterans, their dependents and survivors in securing their rights and benefits under federal and state law. On pages 472 and 473 is the department’s– their shared services appropriation. This appropriation is for the salary and match for the department secretary, and it is authorized at approximately $212,000 and is funded by general revenues through the miscellaneous agencies fund. The agency is requesting approximately $215,000 in both fiscal years with increases of about $3,000 for the continuation of personal services matching for adjustments during the biennium, and the executive provides for the agency’s request. And if it’s okay with you, I’m going to go to the department summary, which if you’ll turn with me, it’s on page 478. This is most of the appropriations for the department. And amongst these are appropriations for operating their two veterans nursing homes, maintaining the two veteran cemeteries, and paying costs associated with military honors and veterans funerals. They have authorized appropriations in total of $71.7 million with 303 authorized positions that are utilized across the department. And they’re funded primarily from federal revenue, general revenue, and cash funds. And they have 11 appropriations total. Three of these appropriations in the appropriations summary are not being requested– or they were requested in the interim and they’re not requested to continue . And then of the remaining ones, they have increases in five and the continuation of current authorized in three.


Walls: And if you’ll turn with me to page 480 and 481, we’ll talk about their state operations appropriation. This appropriation provides for the administrative cost of the Department and it’s currently authorized at $2.16 million and funded through general revenues through the miscellaneous agency funds. The agency is requesting a little bit more than $2.3 million in both fiscal years with the following changes. They’re asking for a $1,000 increase in operating expenses in both years for general operations of the department, a $9,500 increase in conference and travel for staff conference participation and training needs of the department. They’re requesting the addition of a new line item, $10,000 for promotional items and that is for outreach and promotion of awareness of issues impacting the veteran community, including suicide prevention. They’re actually requesting a decrease in their grants and aid in line item of about $108,500 to better align with their actual expenditures. They are also requesting an increase of approximately $221,000 in FY 24 and $234,000 in FY 25 for salaries and personal services matching adjustments that were made in the interim and personnel changes including reclassifications. For this appropriation, the executive provides for the agency’s request, except for the appropriation associated with the reclassifications in the personnel changes.


Walls: The next one we’re going to talk about is on pages 482 and 483, and it’s for veterans homes. This is the appropriation that provides for the care of the residents of the state veterans homes in Fayetteville and North Little Rock and is authorized currently at approximately $21.3 million. These skilled nursing facilities are funded through room and board payments from private payers, private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, and reimbursement from the US Department of Veterans Affairs state home per diem program. The agency is requesting about $23.7 million in fiscal year 2024 and $23.9 million in fiscal year 2025 with the following changes. They’re asking for $115,000 increase in operating expenses for temporary nursing labor at both veterans homes, a $30,000 increase in professional fees and services for medical fees and services for veterans at the North Little Rock Veterans Home, a $100,000 increase in capital–


Dotson: If we can keep our conversations a little low. Some members are having a hard time hearing. Continue, please.


Walls: $100,000 increase in capital outlay to replace equipment that’s needed at the North Little Rock Veterans Home. They’re also requesting the addition of a promotional items line item in this appropriation as well to assist with recruitment events at both of the veterans homes. And they’re also requesting increases of approximately $2.13 million in FY 2024 and $2.31 million in FY 2025 for salary and personal services matching adjustments that were made in the interim and personnel changes, including reclassifications. The executive recommendation provides for these requests with the exception of the additional appropriation from the reclassifications and the personnel changes.


Walls: The next appropriation is on pages 484 and 485. And this is the Veteran Cemetery’s cash appropriation. And it supports operations and land improvements at the state veteran cemeteries at North Little Rock and Birdeye, and it’s appropriated approximately $336,000. And it’s funded with federal revenues that are received from federal burial awards for each veteran burial and cash from burial fees for eligible family members who are also buried in these cemeteries. The agency is requesting $1.18 million in fiscal year 2024 and $753,000 in fiscal year 2025 with the following changes. They’re requesting a $5,000 increase for both years in conference and travel for staff training in St. Louis, the addition of a new $6,500 promotional items line item in both years for marketing and education around the preregistration for burial benefits at these cemeteries. They’re asking for increases of $648,000 in FY 24 and $248,000 in FY 25 for operating expenses in order to comply with national standards surrounding headstone raising and the realignment and for outsourced labor for headstone setting, an increase of approximately $80,000 in FY 24 and $50,000 in FY 25 for capital outlay for equipment replacements due to the equipment surpassing its useful life, and increases of $106,000 in FY 24 and $107,000 in FY 25 for salary and personal service matching adjustments made in the interim and personnel changes, including reclassifications. And the executive recommendation provides for these requests with the exceptions of the reclassifications and the personnel changes.


Walls: The next one is a companion appropriation for veteran cemeteries. This is the state appropriation, and it is authorized approximately $894,000 and is funded with general revenues through the miscellaneous agencies fund. The agency is requesting $1.14 million in FY 24 and $1.13 million in FY 25, and they’re asking for increases of $73,000 in FY 24 and $51,000 in FY 25 for operating expenses at North Little Rock Cemetery to support operations because their expenses have increased but cash funding has not. They’re also requesting increases of approximately $175,000 in FY 24 and $188,000 in FY 25 for salary and personal services matching adjustments made in the interim, and personnel changes, including reclassifications. And the executive provides for the agency’s request, except for the reclassifications and the personnel changes.


Walls: The next one, this is the final one that has changes. This is the military funeral honors fund– sorry about that. And it pays for costs associated with providing military funeral honors at veterans funerals. They’re currently authorized approximately $23,000, and it’s funded with special revenues from the sale of special military license plates. The agency is requesting that they double their current appropriation, both fiscal years, to $45,900. And this is to permanently raise the stipend paid to military funeral honor guard teams from $50 to $100 per funeral to help offset travel costs. This request was previously approved in the interim by ALC, and the executive provides for the agency’s request in this situation as well. Of the final three that we’re going to talk about, they’re requesting continuation of these appropriations.


Walls: On pages 490 and 491 is the Northwest Arkansas State Veterans Home appropriation. This is the cash appropriation, the state part. And it provides state matching funds associated with the construction of a new veterans home in Northwest Arkansas. It’s approximately 35% of the cost, and this is on property that was donated to the state. They’re currently authorized $15 million, and this has been funded with a one-time transfer from the restricted reserve fund. They’re requesting continuation of this appropriation of both fiscal years, and the executive provides for the agency’s request. And on pages 492 and 493 is the federal companion for the cost of construction of a new veterans home in Northwest Arkansas, and it is authorized at $30 million and is going to be funded with federal funds. And the agency is requesting continuation of this appropriation in both fiscal years as well, and the executive provides for the agency’s request. The final appropriation is going to be on pages 494 and 495, and this is for cemetery expansion. It’s a federal appropriation, provides for the federal funding associated with the expansion of both of the cemeteries, and it’s currently authorized to $2 million. And the agency is requesting the continuation of that $2 million appropriation in both fiscal years, and the executive provides for the agency’s request. And this concludes my presentation for this part of the agency.


Dotson: Thank you. Secretary Todd, would you or any of your crew want to make any statements before we get started in the queue here?


Todd: Senator, the Veterans of Arkansas is thankful to the governor, to this legislative body, and the taxpayers. We are adequately funded. We have made investments in the veteran enrollment in VA healthcare, expansion in the cemeteries, and ensuring that the veterans receive the benefits in which they have earned and are entitled to. Again, we are thankful to the governor, to this legislative body, and the taxpayers of Arkansas.


Dotson: Thank you very much. On page 485, your operating expenses, I noticed you have quite a few additional expenses in the upcoming year. Did those actually bleed over into the following year, 2024-2025, where you reduce the appropriation request but not down to your previous authorized level as 2022-2023 year?


Todd: That was some leveling for investments. Previously, we’ve had district veteran services offices in Forrest City and in Hope. When those individuals retired, we chose not to fill those positions. However, with the PACT Act that was supported by our federal delegation and improves the entitlements to the veterans of the Vietnam era, of the Gulf War era, and those stationed at Camp Lejeune, it’s important that we re-establish those offices. We have re-leveled those from some legislation, some funding that Senator Wallace and Representative Love championed last year. In the cemeteries, we also are positioned for expansion from federal grants that we expect to receive in 2023 and 2024. And the challenge with the homes is contract labor. That has increased tremendously.


Dotson: So this is the cemetery one, which it says the increase to comply with the administrative standards headstone raising realignment for one-time need. But do you anticipate that’s going to bleed over into the second fiscal year I guess–?


Todd: It would. We are expecting a grant for North Little Rock and Birdeye. We think that that grant would take place at Birdeye in 2023 and possibly in North Little Rock. However, that realignment for that section could have to be moved into 2024– excuse me, 2025.


Dotson: Thank you. Senator Chesterfield, you’re up first.


Chesterfield: Okay. Well, I hadn’t seen any lights on until now. So I guess I’ll put off my motion to executive rec. But I do want to say thank you. I want to say thank you to Colonel Todd because in the past, I’ve never known to whom I should go when our veterans in my area have had needs, and he has always been there, always responsive. And I just want to say thank you publicly because we don’t say that to our employees enough. Your service is truly appreciated by me, and I would be remiss if I did not say you have never failed to respond, and I truly appreciate it. I’ll make a motion at a later time.


Todd: Thank you, Senator.


Dotson: Thank you, Senator. Senator Hammer, you’re up next.


Hammer: Thank you, Mr. Chair. One of the questions I want to ask about was, can you point out in the budget where we are doing anything extra or give us an update on prevention for suicide for the veterans in our state?


Todd: Yes, Senator Hammer. Senator Hammer, for the last year and a half, we have been in collaboration with the Department of Health, with the Department of Human Service, and Department of Education. We have had some federal dollars that we have extended prevention, particularly in North Arkansas in Baxter County. And in this case, we’ve done the analysis. There are some challenges in Hot Springs in Garland County. Our regular operational budget, we will extend in reference to information and education in those areas in reference to veteran affairs that we administer throughout the state.


Hammer: Okay, and follow up, Mr. Chair.


Dotson: Go ahead.


Hammer: With regards to staff for the VA homes, with the nursing shortage, can you give us the update, and do you feel you’re adequately budgeted to be able to be competitive in recruiting and retaining the nurses and the staff for the veteran homes both North Little Rock and up in northwest?


Todd: We are categorically not. We cannot compete with the contracted labor rates. We know that a portion of that goes to the contractor. However, with the personnel regulations, we have not been able to provide any incentives for recruitment or retention.


Hammer: And do you feel it’s time that we address that so you can– how short staffed are you right now then?


Todd: At the Fayetteville home, they’re authorized about 101 FTE. With the census they have, that’s probably about 82 FTEs with the census they have. And we have 41 staff personnel that are Arkansas employees. The rest of that team is augmented by contract personnel. At North Little Rock, we have challenges in LPNs, RNs, and CNAs, and we’re probably at about 40% staff there also. That authorization is, I recall, about 130 because of the cottage environment that we have there, and we probably have about 60 personnel there.


Hammer: I’d like you and your staff to work up what you think would be a reasonable proposal to address that problem and present it to us, if you would, please, because as we look at nursing shortages in other areas, we certainly want to take care of our veterans. We want to take care of all populations, but it’s a little bit disturbing sometimes that we’re placed at a disadvantage because you are a government agency. So I would like to ask you and your staff to prepare a proposal that you think would help address that and present it to the chair if the chair is willing to receive it and push it out to the rest of the members so we can see about trying to find a solution to fix that.


Todd: Thank you, Senator, for that opportunity.


Dotson: Just send that to the staff, and I’ll get that out to everybody.


Hammer: Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Dotson: Senator Elliott, you are recognized.


Elliott: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think this might be– my question might pertain to just what we’re talking about. I’m not sure. But Colonel Todd, on page 484, I was just reading here, the reclassification, that was something that was not granted, if I’m reading correctly. But I was just thinking about this in terms of personnel, too, and whether or not we are funded as we should be or even if we are competitive. So I’m just wondering if that reclassification had anything to do with trying to meet that competitive edge that we don’t have or otherwise. Just talk to me a little bit about why the reclassification was requested.


Todd: The cemetery operation is mechanical in nature. With the construction that has happened in central Arkansas, we had not been able to compete for skilled labor, and we asked to qualify some of these positions as mechanical technicians. And we have five landscape technicians, and we need those classified as mechanical technicians for us to compete reasonably. That still won’t make us as competitive as others in the industry, but that would help.


Elliott: Okay. Well, do you– and this may be a sensitive question– I’m not trying to set up anything other than just trying to get information– have any information about why the reclassification was not granted?


Todd: The administration wanted to give the next administration opportunity to look at these type of actions. That’s my understanding.


Elliott: Yeah, I understand there is some sense of, we’re going to wait until the next governor, whoever that might be, will make these decisions. But this is not you talking. This is me talking now. With something like this, where we say all the time how much we appreciate and value the service of our veterans, and time and time again, it does come up. We’re not competing to get the folks we need. If ever there were going to be a group where we would make an exception and do this, it seems to me it would be for these veterans in a situation like this because it is commonplace that we’ve not put ourselves in a position to be competitive. That’s me talking, not you. But I appreciate your effort to try to put us in that position. So thank you very much for your response.


Todd: Thank you, Senator.


Dotson: Thank you, Senator. Representative Cavenaugh.


Cavenaugh: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Over here to your right. I just have a quick question. It’s going to be on page 491 and 493, which is appropriations for the veterans hospital in Northwest Arkansas. I know we’ve got the $15 million out of rainy day funds and then we got the federal grant for $30 million. We’ve already received the funds for the restricted reserve. Have we already received those funds?


Todd: Yes, ma’am.


Cavenaugh: Okay. And have you received the $30 million from the feds money yet?


Todd: No, ma’am. And we tracked that process with the help of Congressman Womack. Those decisions at the federal level are made in the April-May time frame, but we will be in a high priority because our state has provided the matching fund. In competing with other states, what we have observed in our analysis that it may take two federal fiscal years to get to a funding priority and that could possibly put us in state fiscal year 2025, which starts 1 July 2024.


Cavenaugh: Okay. And you’re not going to start any of the project until you actually had the federal funds secured?


Todd: That land was donated. It does need some prep. And we may have an opportunity, if some federal dollars be presented, to do some prep.


Cavenaugh: Okay. Alright. Thank you.


Dotson: Thank you, Representative. Senator Stubblefield.


Stubblefield: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Cavenaugh asked one of the questions I was going to ask. Colonel Todd, I, too, want to thank you sincerely, appreciate all you do for the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than you’ll ever realize. But also, I want to ask you if you’re aware of the situation that happened in Fort Smith, where we had a large amount of veterans’ remains that had not been claimed and had not been buried. Could you comment on that and how that happened, and what we can do to rectify that?


Todd: So, Senator, I can’t speak to it directly. I can share with you what we have done at the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. We work with coroners to identify remains that have not been identified and to determine if they are veterans. If they are veterans, we ask the coroner to ensure that there is no family that has claimed that remains. And then twice a year we bring those remains to the North Little Rock Cemetery and we give them an honorable internment. We’ve not been in Northwest Arkansas. That happened primarily in central Arkansas. That was an initiative we had in 2022. We have one scheduled for this year. However, sir, we will reach out to Northwest Arkansas and try to understand that better.


Stubblefield: All right. I appreciate that. Thank you again for your service. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Dotson: Thank you. Senator Wallace, you’re recognized.


Wallace: Colonel Todd, I’ve got a couple of questions, but first of all, I want to thank you. During your tenure, you’ve turned our Arkansas VA from an okay organization to an absolutely outstanding organization, you and the team you brought in. I saw what it was like eight years ago. I know where it is now. I want to thank you for that, personally. If we were ranking on the old OER system, I’d recommend you for that top block.


Todd: Thank you, Colonel.


Wallace: And sir, my questions are, our county VSOs, how many do we have now for the state? And is there anything else that we as a body can do to help you with that?


Todd: Senator, 18 months ago you sponsored with Representative Love incentives for county veterans service offices, and we incentivized them if they would get certified, meaning that they’re going to be proficient in the skill sets required. And if they had VBMS, which is the electronic file that they can see that veteran’s file in, if a county veterans service office has those two certifications and VBMS, through appropriation that these legislators provided, that county gets $4,000 a year, $1,000 a quarter. At the time, we had been around 64% of the county veterans service offices being certified in VBMS. Now we’re at about 85% of them being certified and about 75% of them having VBMS. That has helped tremendously. We do have some challenges in several counties: Arkansas, Monroe, and Phillips. That’s one of the reasons we are requesting to, and the administration has agreed to, restaff the Forrest City district veterans service offices and we have appropriations and funding to do that. And the Hope, Arkansas– some challenges in Columbia County and Little River and Sevier. And so we’re going to restaff those offices. This district veterans service officer is important. We had put in nine, now we’re down to six. With suicide prevention, with the Pact Act, there does need to be some reevaluation of those job descriptions and we are in the process of doing that now. Right now those individuals have to be a skill set of social workers, some legal background, and we need a job description that reflects that. So there is some opportunity. We are still studying it.


Wallace: Thank you, Colonel Todd. Mr. Chair, thank you, sir.


Dotson: Thank you, Senator. Representative Richmond, you’re recognized.


Richmond: Colonel Todd, how are you this morning?


Todd: Real good, sir.


Richmond: Good. Again, I also want to thank you for the service that you’ve rendered to the state and to our country. Thank you very much. You have had an impact on the veterans here in this state and that’s no small thing, so thank you.


Todd: Thank you. I do want to thank– we have a great team. Colonel Ingram, our Chief of Staff. Ms. Watkins, our CFO. Bill Wussick, our Director of Cemetery Operations, and Ms. Gina Chandler, Director of Veteran Service Operations. And today we have about 47 county veterans service officers in person and about 37 on Zoom that will be training this afternoon, tomorrow, and Friday morning to ensure that proficiency.


Richmond: This question I have is concerning military funeral with honors. And after seeing Senator Wallace this morning, I thought I’d go ahead and advance this question now to help put his mind at ease on these things. But the participation, how hard is it for you to get services, the different services, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force– I don’t know– Coast Guard, maybe, to put teams forth to render these honors when the veterans are laid to rest?


Todd: Representative Richmond, if I could ask Colonel Ingram, she convened a meeting on the 12th of October with Command Sergeant Major and veterans service organizations, and she has the most current information on that.


Dotson: If you would just state your name for the record.


Ingram: Erica Ingram, Chief of Staff, ADVA. Representative, when we met, we had representatives from the Navy, the Marines, the Army Reserve wasn’t present, but the active duty Air Force, National Guard, and then the service organizations. And they’re running into the same issues, honestly, that we are– it’s personnel. The Navy has a complement of only six people here. Their closest support is out of Millington, Tennessee. The Marines have a complement of four people here, and their closest is Gulfport, Mississippi. The Air Force, of course, because they’re active duty, they have more, but we’re in discussions on things we can do. We have had some instances where we combined and the Air Force and the Army have worked together. We are trying to come to a better resolution in addition to training additional veteran service officers because the veteran services their concern is they have an aging population for their members. So we are scheduled to reconvene in December to try to determine if there is a better way ahead for us working, cooperating better together. And then, of course, on the Guard side, it’s an issue with them using soldiers who have civilian jobs, specifically during the time periods of weekend drill, if there’s some type of service off-site on a weekend drill that’s requested or during annual training times because all of the units usually do their training during the same time period.


Richmond: Follow up, Mr. Chair.


Dotson: Go ahead.


Richmond: I’m disappointed about the Marine Corps, being a Marine, that they’ve got a reserve unit right across the river over there, that they didn’t offer up a little more participation than what you’re doing. I know that I was an INI at a reserve unit up in Maine and we did funerals all over the state. It was expected of us to do those things. So I don’t know, I just think that maybe reaching out to them or something might be an idea to help out with that. There’s not tons and tons of Marines dying in this state, so I think they could accommodate that and maybe they should. It might help with their recruiting.


Ingram: Yes, sir. I’ll reach back out to Major Stewart. According to his comment that day that as Marines they had not had to ask for another service to assist them. But I’m not sure of the number of funerals they’ve done per year.


Richmond: Okay. Thank you very much.


Ingram: Yes, sir.


Dotson: Thank you, Representative. Representative Wooten, you’re up.


Wooten: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have three or four quick questions. Colonel, I, too, want to share my appreciation to you and the outreach that you and your folks have to the veterans. It’s so important. It’s so vital. And I do appreciate it. I appreciate you meeting with retired Major Hold on that proposal he had. I have three quick questions. One, of the 34 vacancies that you have that are over two years old, do you know the age of those? Are they three years? Four years? And then what are they? Do you know the average age?


Todd: Representative Wooten, I don’t have the exact information.


Wooten: Can you provide that?


Todd: I could get it. Most of those are in the area of LPNs and RNS, but we’ll have the exact date of when we can provide.


Wooten: And then on the 158 vacancies that you have, following up with Representative Hammer’s question, how many of those are made up by nurses? Do you know that?


Todd: The majority.


Wooten: The majority of them. That’s nursing positions?


Todd: Yes, sir.


Wooten: And it’s a market value situation where you’re not– okay. All right. The other question, we had quite a discussion yesterday relative to interest, and you have several fund balances and several million dollars, but I don’t see in any of this information that we’re given the interest on that that you earned. Do you receive the interest earning on all that, and how is that money invested?


Todd: We have visibility of it. In the anticipation of two cemetery grants, the state, in the new federal cemetery process, have to purchase the crypts and then be reimbursed. We’re in discussion with DFA to use some of that interest to purchase these crypts, and we would get reimbursed.


Wooten: Okay. Well, my question is from an accounting standpoint. It would be helpful to us, and I’m sure you all keep up with it. Is the amount of interest that you earn on the funds that you have invested? Because to me, that’s a funding source, is it not? I mean, you just–


Todd: Ms. Watkins, can you speak to that, please?


Watkins: Yes, sir. We do receive interest. Those funds are all held at the treasury. And the amount of interest is just under 2% per year. And for example, for the $15 million that we received from the restricted reserve funding for the Northwest Arkansas construction, new home construction, we’ve had about $35,000 posted in interest since the funds were deposited in the agency account in August. So it’s a substantial amount of money.


Wooten: Okay. And that’s the exact point, that to me, somewhere– and we had a discussion with DFA yesterday about this, but in the funding sources– under funding sources on every one of these budgets, interest income is not shown at all. And you just make a point. It’s a sizable amount of money. So would it be difficult for you to do that? If this information changes, to just have a line item that says interest income is X amount under funding sources?


Watkins: It won’t be difficult at all. We’ll do that.


Wooten: Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Colonel.


Dotson: Thank you, Representative. Senator Hammer, you’re recognized.


Hammer: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to go back to the funeral services and the honors that are given. In a meeting three or four months ago in here, a suggestion was put forth about possibly using ROTC to be able to conduct or help perform those military honors. I know, personally, a situation occurred down in my district where our ROTC actually responded and provided the military honors when there wasn’t staff adequate to do it. And it really meant a lot to the family. Is that in the discussion still for the meeting that you’ve got coming up to consider using ROTC?


Ingram: That was not brought up, Senator, but I took that note, and I’ll also contact Cadet Command for the ROTC in Arkansas because I do have that POC. So we’ll ensure that he’s invited to that meeting.


Hammer: If you don’t mind, I’d like to get a report back on that because I know that also those students, it’s good on their resumes for college, and they need to get community service time. Maybe that’s the marriage of the best of both worlds to be able to do that. If you would put that on consideration, please.


Ingram: Yes, sir. Thank you.


Hammer: And then the second thing is on the– I think they’re called VSOs in the county. Refresh my memory. Does the county bear some of the financial burden for providing either office staff or anything in the way of support for those officers?


Todd: They do. Some counties are better than others. Washington County, Benton County, Pulaski County, Saline County, they augment that staff. However, there are some counties that our state reimbursement of about, depending on the number of veterans they have in that county, about $2,500 a quarter. And if they’re certified and have VBMS access, that is what that county is using to support that part-time county veterans service officer. There are some counties that do better. There are some counties that don’t have the resources for a full-time county veterans service officer.


Hammer: Well, if you want to pass on the answer to this question, I’ll give you a free pass, but is some of the issue that some of the counties don’t perceive the need to be more attentive to their veterans by supporting the VSO more? Or is it maybe a question of economics for the county depending on which county it is and the resources, or is there a spirit of cooperation among all the counties, and what do we need to do to maybe help address that issue? If you don’t have adequate funding or you don’t have enough funding in yours, what’s you guys’ suggestions on what we can do to try to get more assistance out of the counties?


Todd: I think that in some counties it’s economics. I do think that placing these district veterans service offices and restaffing the district veterans service offices in Forrest City and Hope will help with that.


Hammer: Okay. All right, thank you.


Dotson: Thank you, Senator. Representative Cavenaugh, you’re recognized.


Cavenaugh: Yes, sir. This is a question for staff. If we have an appropriation, say on page 498, that we’re getting no appropriation, it’s going away, but it still has funds in excess funding– and it’s not just this department, it’s any department. What happens to those funds?


BLR Staff: Do you want me to try and answer that?


Dotson: Go ahead.


BLR Staff: Yeah, I would defer to accounting on that, but it’s a case-by-case scenario. Normally those are swept into the general revenue allotment reserve, which is where the surplus goes. In a situation with cash funds like that, though, they may have to work with the agency since they were collected for a specific purpose. It really would be case-by-case.


Cavenaugh: Okay. Thank you.


Dotson: All right. Seeing no further questions, do I have a motion? Motion executive rec. Second? I see no discussion. All in favor, aye? Any opposed? Motion passes. Thank you.


Todd: Thank you, Senator. And we want to thank this legislative body and the taxpayers of Arkansas.


Dotson: And that was for items two and three on the agenda. I don’t know if we– Ms. Walls, you had something– was that not for three as well?


Walls: I haven’t presented for the disabled veteran service offices and veterans child welfare, I’m sorry.


Dotson: That’s item four.


Walls: Okay. Thank you.


Dotson: Sorry. I think one was added. Another one was added, DFA. So your item number four is disabled veterans. That’s up next.


Walls: Okay.


Dotson: You ready to present for that?


Walls: Yes, sir.


Dotson: You’re recognized.


Disabled Veterans Service Office

Walls: Thank you, sir. I’m sorry. All right. If you’ll turn with me to page 474, this is the appropriation for the Disabled Veteran Service Office state operations appropriation. The actual appropriation summary is on page 476. And this assists veterans in preparing claims to the U.S. government for compensation and other benefits. The agency currently has an appropriation of $39,600 approximately. And this is for the operations of the Disabled Veteran Service Office and the one position that’s associated with it, and it’s funded by general revenues through the miscellaneous agency fund. Agency request is for a little over $42,000 in both fiscal years, with increases of about $3,000 in both fiscal years for the continuation of personal services matching for adjustments during the biennium. And the executive provides for the agency’s request. And this concludes my presentation for this appropriation.


Dotson: All right. Seeing no questions, do we have motion executive rec? A second. Seeing no discussion, all in favor, aye. Any opposed? Motion passes. And that takes us to our last one, Arkansas Veteran Children’s Welfare, item number 5. Ms. Walls, you’re recognized.


Veterans Child Welfare Operations

Walls: Thank you, Mr. Chair. This appropriation starts on page 499, and then their summary is on page 501. This appropriation is for the Veterans Child Welfare Operations, and it provides temporary assistance to the minor children of recently deceased, hospitalized, or medically incapacitated veterans with limited or no income until a more permanent income source is established. Their total appropriation is for a little over $160,000, and it’s for the operations of the Veterans Child Welfare Office and its two associated positions, and it’s funded by general revenues through the miscellaneous agencies fund account. The agency is requesting $174,600 approximately in FY 24 and $176.2 thousand in FY 25, with increases of about $15,000 in FY 24 and $16,000 in FY 25 for salary and personal services matching adjustments made in the interim. And the executive recommendation provides for the agency’s request. And this concludes my presentation for this agency.


Dotson: Thank you. Senator Hammer, you are recognized.


Hammer: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Could you give me an idea about how many families you help? Do you happen to have that information a year?


Todd: We have the dollar amount. That has been about $4,000 a year.


Hammer: The number of families?


Todd: The number of families? When I see this quarterly, as I recall, it’s been four or five families a year.


Hammer: Okay. All right. So it’s sufficient to the need, then. The dollars are sufficient to the need?


Todd: Yes, sir.


Hammer: Okay. Thank you.


Dotson: Thank you, Senator. Seeing no other questions, do I have a motion? Motion executive rec. Second. Without discussion, all in favor, aye. Any opposed, nay. Motion passes. Members, that concludes the agenda for this morning. Personnel will meet in this room in about 15 minutes, so gather your things if you’re not on Personnel or you’re vacating and take your discussions out. And Special Language will be in Big Mac B at 1:30. We are adjourned.