BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAUGE –
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas churches and religious organizations will be invited by the governor to a conference in late August at which he will ask their help in meeting two urgent needs – recruiting additional foster families and preparing inmates for life outside prison.
The state Department of Human Services operates the foster care system. It lists about 4,400 in need of being placed in foster homes but has only 2,500 spaces with families that have been approved.
The governor called the foster care situation “unacceptable” and said it must be reformed. He also noted the extremely high unemployment rate for people who have been released from prison, about 47 percent. Every year about 6,000 inmates, the majority of them males, are released from prison. Almost all of them need some type of help making a successful transition back into society, and a high percentage of them commit more crimes and return to prison.
Earlier this year the legislature approved a package of measures proposed by the governor to reduce prison overcrowding and lower the recidivism rate in Arkansas, which is the percentage of released inmates who commit new offenses and are sent back to prison.
One measure opens up 500 beds for inmates in re-entry programs. The governor noted that a 500-bed re-entry program is not sufficient when 6,000 inmates a year are being released.
About 5,000 Arkansas churches and places of worship will receive invitations to the conference, which will be in Little Rock on August 25 and 26. It is called “Restore Hope Summit: A Call to Action for Faith Leaders on Foster Care and Prison Re-Entry.” The invitations will go to all denominations and faiths.
One question that government officials hope to answer will be how to reduce or remove bureaucratic obstacles that sometimes keep religious organizations from participating in social programs or that hinder them from carrying out their missions.
The governor has put together a steering committee composed of a diverse array of religious leaders who will write an agenda for the conference and set goals. The summit will be paid for with private donations.
Arkansas finished the 2015 fiscal year with a surplus of $191.6 million. Net general revenue for the year was 4.5 percent above the previous year. State fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30, and the state is just beginning Fiscal Year 2016.
The three major sources of state general revenue are sales taxes, individual income taxes and corporate income taxes.
Revenue from individual income taxes was up 2.5 percent over the previous year. That indicates an increase in wages and the number of people working.
Revenue from corporate income taxes was up 12 percent over Fiscal Year 2014. The increase reflects more business activity, but revenue officials caution that sometimes an increase in revenue can reflect changes in the federal tax code that make it profitable for corporations to delay or accelerate filing their taxes or claiming deductions.
Sales taxes reflect how much people spend. Revenue from Arkansas sales taxes was up 1.1 percent over the previous fiscal year.