Friday, March 24, 2017

EDITORIAL >> No repeal, replace yet

“We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

An inexperienced president and a House speaker who could not count ensured defeat of a signature healthcare bill that Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail would cover everyone for a lot less money and with better features than Obamacare.

Republican members of Congress who bothered to read the much-touted American Health Care Act realized it would cost more and cover fewer people and offer fewer benefits. Most GOP representatives jumped ship, leaving only those who were still in lockstep with a panicked leadership to support the confused measure.

Ryan postponed a vote Thursday until Friday in hopes of getting the unpopular bill passed — calls from constituents were 35-1 against — but more Republicans mutinied and support for the measure quickly collapsed.

The stunning defeat for the much-touted American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act was a foregone conclusion even before the House was supposed to start voting Friday afternoon as most conservative and many moderate members refused to support the legislation that would continue to add to the deficit while cutting back benefits at a much higher cost.

By mid-afternoon Friday, Trump told Speaker Ryan to pull the bill, which would have lost by a lopsided margin as more Republicans recoiled from the weird contraption that would have dropped 24 million people from insurance coverage while costing the federal government billions of dollars more in the next decade.

In any case, the administration was already two months behind schedule — Republicans had promised to repeal Obamacare “on day one” — and here we were in late March with no replacement in sight. And now repeal and replacement is just a campaign slogan and nothing more.

President Trump tried to twist arms during a visit to Congress this week, but most members were no longer intimidated, and that may have been the moment the tide turned against the bill. At week’s end, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said he would vote no as did other key legislators, putting an end to efforts to repeal Obamacare until at least the next election and perhaps forever. No “Art of the Deal” this time.

The many sweeteners added to the bill to make Obamacare Lite easier for conservatives to swallow didn’t sway the holdouts and in fact offended many deficit hawks. But those reported changes, which would have eliminated important features available under Obamacare, would have made it more difficult to pass in the Senate.

Rep. Rick Crawford, the Republican congressman from the largely rural First District, said he could not support a bill that added to the national debt. “When we’re $20 trillion in debt, and we’re facing interest rate increases, I don’t want to engage in another (entitlement) program that exacerbates that problem,” he told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “Big government under Republicans vs. big government under Democrats is still big government.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also opposed the health care bill on the same philosophical grounds, although the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, stood behind the President and Speaker Ryan, whatever the cost, especially to Arkansas, which could have lost tens of millions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid funds if the bill had passed.

The American Health Care Act had too many serious flaws: It would have raised premiums for working seniors who are a decade away from retirement and would have dropped tens of thousands of working poor Arkansans who have signed up for Medicaid expansion. Children from less affluent homes who have benefited from ARKids (which Gov. Mike Huckabee launched 20 years ago) could also have lost coverage.

Hospitals throughout Arkansas, especially UAMS and the many regional medical centers in small towns and rural areas, would also have been harmed. They would have been expected to treat more patients in emergency rooms, forcing hospitals to write off millions of dollars worth of charity care. Hospitals in our area have probably written off $100 million or more in uncollected debt.

Putting additional burdens on doctors and hospitals is not the answer to our health care crisis. It’s time for bipartisan legislation that ensures all Americans can get proper health care.

Political grandstanding must stop, along with sloganeering and empty promises. An epidemic of opiate addiction is spreading across the country — many of the addicts are Trump voters — and life expectancy among white working-class people is dropping alarmingly. Fixing our health- care crisis does not need political labels. Call it Obamacare or Trumpcare or Ryancare if you want, but the American people deserve health care that’s above partisan politics. They’re tired of the political drama that played out in Washington this week.


By Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron 
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Dark clouds hover over the 19th Airlift Wing Base Operations building as if signaling the imminent arrival of bad weather.

A storm system highlighted with bright green, red and yellow light up a radar monitor conveying an ominous message for the 19th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight.

Airmen work around the clock to collect and analyze the information as they piece together a picture of what’s to come.

Spring is tornado season and the weather flight Airmen are on the lookout for a potential threat.

Nearly six years ago, a twister ripped through Little Rock Air Force Base. Located in “tornado alley,” the base has a history of being impacted by severe weather conditions.

As meteorologists, Airmen monitor weather patterns 24/7 and alert aircrews and base populace of severe weather conditions imminent in the local area.

“We play a vital role in the mission,” said Air Force Capt. Ian Bergstrom, 19th OSS Weather Flight commander. “From pre-planning to execution, we brief aircrews on weather conditions and alert them if anything pops up during flight.”

Just as the U.S. Navy uses radars and NASA uses satellites, the 19th OSS Weather Flight employs both systems to observe weather patterns hourly.

The team measures and monitors rainfall, cloud height, thunderstorms, temperatures, tornados, hail and much more to ensure the safety of the C-130 and its aircrew.

The data collected is then used to produce five to 3-day forecasts for the 19th Airlift Wing, 314th Airlift Wing and 189th Airlift Wing.

The forecasts are distributed using the flight’s three main functions: staff services, mission services and airfield services.

Staff services provides base leadership with timely and accurate weather projections. Mission services briefs aircrews on local weather patterns. Airfield services provides weather watches, warnings and advisories to the base populace.

All base resources are protected from severe weather events through the weather flights three services.

“Resource protection is our goal,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Cantu, 19th OSS Weather Flight technician. “Our resources are the base personnel, aircraft and property; that’s why we issue our weather warnings.”

Human input is the key element that sets the weather flight apart from ubiquitous weather applications.

They maintain a 93 percent accuracy rating compared to an 84 percent rating by leading weather applications, according to the Consumer News and Business Channel.

“The models used to collect weather data aren’t always spot on,” Cantu explained. “Human input is key to identifying issues that the models don’t pick up — we update and analyze the data consistently for better accuracy.”

Little Rock AFB maintains a 24/7 mission readiness stance. As meteorologists, the 19th OSS Weather Flight provides trusted and accurate weather forecasts around the clock to support the global Combat Airlift mission on base.

TOP STORY >> Pastor to lobby for Head Start

Leader staff writer

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

But Washington legislators and President Donald J. Trump may have missed that Bible lesson, so said Jason Ferguson, pastor of First Christian Church of Sherwood.

He and five others were asked to travel to Washington and lobby the Arkansas congressional delegation on behalf of Save the Children Head Start. Their Advocacy Summit begins Sunday and ends Tuesday.

“We will lobby our congressional delegation (including Reps. French Hill, Steve Womack, Bruce Westerman and Rick Crawford, all Republicans) on maintaining and expanding quality early- childhood education programs that help the most vulnerable,” he says.

The attitude in Washington is “disingenuous and disheartening. Education and childhood services are often used as wedge issues to push an agenda,” and he’s afraid that’s the rule of the day.

Actually, he said about the unpopularity of funding social programs under this administration and the current Congress, “We need more civility and less ego in public service. When a country is led by ego and not humanity, then it’s in trouble.”

Trump’s educational and social services slash-and-the-poor-do-without budget tactics has the pastor distressed, especially in light of the larger First Christian Church’s mission priority to work with and for children, youth and young adults.

Their end-result isn’t converts, but to heal, teach and transform lives, he said.

So instead of doing nothing, he, along with five others, are heading to Washington to remind Arkansas legislators of the continued need for the Child Care and Development Block Grants that fund early- education programs around the nation, including in Arkansas.

There are 30 different Head Start program grants in Arkansas serving about 9,000 3- and 4-year-olds. This number doesn’t include the state’s early-childhood educational programs that it serves, Ferguson said.

“The United States lags behind other industrialized nations on access to early education, ranking 28 out of 38 developed countries on early education enrollment among 4-year-olds,” he said.

His message to the Arkansas congressmen, in part, will be: “Head Start and Early Head Start are critical to providing comprehensive early care and education to our poorest children. (Currently) Head Start serves less than half of all eligible preschool-age children, while Early Head Start serves less than five percent of eligible infants and toddlers.”

He plans to ask the legislators to consider spending money on global prenatal healthcare.

Save the Children has programs in areas of the state struggling with high poverty rates and social and educational disadvantages.

The Sherwood pastor has seen up close the difference Head Start can make in the community of Patterson (Woodruff County). These children often come from single-parent, most often single moms, low-income homes and are desperate for role models and guidance.

“What blew me away was how all the boys were drawn to me like a magnet. They were so hungry to interact with me,” Ferguson said. “The teacher said, ‘You may be one of the only males they have contact with in a month.’”

“As a former Head Start volunteer I have seen first hand the difference these types of programs can make in helping make sure kids start public school with the knowledge and skills they need to flourish and survive, not fester and die,” he said.

Head Start is so important to Ward Mayor Art Brooke that he offered the program space at city hall when he found out that it was in danger of closing because Ward Central Elementary, part of the Cabot School District, could no longer house the program due to space limitations.

At last July’s city council meeting, aldermen gave their blessing to Brooke’s proposal, and the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas’ Head Start program moved in before the start of the school year.

The Ward program has about 30 students.

Ferguson said, “A lot of the time these children come from families with severely limited means and are behind socially and educationally by the time they enter kindergarten. By the time they reach the fourth grade, they’re so far behind in reading and math that it’s impossible for them to make up lost ground.”

Without a quality early education, a disadvantaged child’s chances of success are grim, Save the Children Action Network said. While in school, statistics say, 50 percent are more likely to be placed in special education classes; 40 percent are teen parents, and about 25 percent will drop out of school.

After school, 60 percent are more likely to not attend any college. Instead, these same kids, about 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Ferguson said “we either pay for education on the front end or incarceration on the back end.”

According to a 2016 report by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, “The rate of return on investments in early-childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child per year due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime.”

In other words, early intervention can produce successful, productive, tax-paying citizens, Ferguson added.

And all of society benefits, he said.

Ferguson, who has been a journalist, worked in governmental policy and procedure, became a pastor about 15 years ago. He said, “We also will be advocating for legislation and action that benefits maternal, newborn and childhood survival. The emphasis would be on mom and child health and nutrition not just at home, but abroad.”

Around the world every year, about 1 million babies die on the day of their birth, another 2 million die within the next seven days.

About 16,000 children die each day from preventable and treatable illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, and malnutrition is the cause of death in about 45 percent of kids under 5.

“The numbers are hard,” Ferguson said.

Successful adults start long before the first days of preschool, and, he said, in order to be an engaged first grader, a child needs access to healthcare.

Furthermore, he said, “I am excited that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made its leading priority to work with and for children, youth and young adults by creating communities of healing, learning and transformation,” he said.

“This is a tangible way we can embody and share the good news of Christ who came in the name of love.”

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville police: Hail to the chief!

Leader staff writer

“After the first round of interviews, I knew this was our guy,” said Mayor Gary Fletcher, adding, “Do we have to interview anyone else?”

The answer to that was yes as the selection committee narrowed down the original 31 applicants to 11, then four, two and then one.

That one was the guy the mayor had keyed in on at the beginning, Geoffrey Herweg, 53, the deputy chief of the Lovington, N.M., police department.

Fletcher introduced Herweg, who goes by Jeff, to about 50 members of the police and fire department, city officials and others at a 3:30 p.m. Friday gathering at the public safety building.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with two great police chiefs,” said the mayor, “Gary Sipes and Kenny Boyd, and now I feel that Jeff (Herweg) will take us to that next level.”

Herweg will replace Boyd in about three weeks. Boyd, who has been with the department for 29 years and the last three as chief, announced his retirement earlier this year.

When Herweg was asked why he put his hat in the ring for the Jacksonville job, he said it just felt right, and after spending the past four days in town, he said it was the right place for him.

“It’s a military town and I come from a military family. It is a small town (although nearly double the size of Lovington) and it’s a very welcoming community. That means more to me than anything,” he said.

He added that Jacksonville “just feels comfortable to him.”

Recently Herweg made the finalist lists for chief positions in Columbus, Miss., and Shreveport, La.

He has more than 30 years of law-enforcement and military experience and has been the deputy chief of Lovington since January 2015. He joined the Lovington force in 2012.

He has led high-profile private-security operations, domestically and internationally. Herweg served as a rapid-response commander at Victory Base Complex, Bagdad, Iraq, helping provide private security for about 68,000 military and civilian personnel.

He also served as shift supervisor for the U.S. Embassy emergency response team in Afghanistan.

He has worked as an adjunct instructor at the New Mexico Police Academy, served as a public information office and use-of-force instructor and has had a helicopter pilot’s license since 2007.

“No, we are not going to buy the police department a helicopter,” quipped the mayor at Friday’s conference.

In police command school recently Herweg had to write a paper on his leadership philosophy. “At one time there were just three kinds, now there’s 13.” He calls his leadership style “proactive positivism.”

At the conference he told the police in attendance to “breathe that no immediate big changes were coming. I’ve got to get to know everyone’s name first,” he quipped. “And just because something working in Lovington or the other places I’ve been doesn’t mean it’ll be instituted here. If it’s already working here there’s no reason to change it.”

Herweg said he was also going to be much more than just the police chief. “I’m involved with three commissions and boards in Lovington and plan to do the same here,” but he quickly added, “However, I’m not going to run for school board.”

The chief-to-be said he had an open-door policy and to feel free to come by and discuss things with him. “But I can’t fit all 80 of you in the room at one time,” Herwig said.

In an interview at The Leader before his introduction as the new chief, Herweg said even though he was born in Chicago and is a die-hard Cubs fan, he considers Oklahoma home.

“My dad was in the Army at Fort Sill and met my mom there. I served eight years in the Texas Army National Guard, starting out enlisted and ending up a second lieutenant.”

Herweg decided on law enforcement after tackling a shoplifter and blowing out his knee in the process.

“I was working at a grocery store in Lawton, Oklahoma, when I saw someone shoplift a number of items and run out of the store and I took off after him and just as he dived to tackle him the store detective yelled, ‘Police, freeze’ and the guy went down immediately.”

Herweg went sailing over him and his knee immediately swelled up. “After surgery, I went on a ride-along and was hooked,” he said.

Herweg started his career with the Apache and Durant, Okla., police departments, before moving to Denison, Texas, Eunice, N.M., and Taylor, Texas.

He has also worked as a marina officer at Lake Pleasant, Ariz., and a nuclear security officer in Tonopah, Ariz.

He has a master’s degree in public administration and said that he may pursue a doctorate.

Herweg and his wife, Jeannette, have six children between them.

“They are all out of the home either working or in college,” the chief said.

TOP STORY >> Panthers get one win at Best of West

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers started strong in the Best of the West Tournament in Memphis, beating Memphis University School 8-1 in the opening round. Later that same day, the Panthers lost 5-4 to Collierville, Tenn., and then fell 10-5 to Van Buren on Wednesday to exit the tournament.

Michael Shepherd went the distance on the mound in the win. He gave up just five hits and one earned run in his seven innings of work, striking out five and walking no one.

Cabot (8-5) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning, starting with a leadoff walk by Blake McCutchen. With one out, McCutchen on second because of a passed ball, catcher Denver Mullins hit an RBI single to center field. Mullins’ courtesy runner, Ty Cyr, also advanced to second on a passed ball, and scored on a double to the fence in center field by Dillon Thomas.

Houston King’s groundout advanced Thomas to third, and the catching woes cost MUS another run, as Thomas scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 Cabot lead.

The Owls started well also. Leadoff hitter Maurice Hampton tripled on a 1-1 pitch, and scored two batters later on a sacrifice grounder by John Bolton.

Cabot went back up by three in the top of the fourth. Brett Brockinton reached on an error at third base, and scored with two outs on a base hit by Kyler Franks. But the rally didn’t stop there.

McCutchen then tripled down the right-field line to score Franks. MUS then flubbed a grounder by Clayton Gray, allowing McCutchen to score and give Cabot a 6-1 lead.

One more run crossed the plate in the fifth. King drew a leadoff, four-pitch walk. Brockinton then struck out on a full-count pitch, but the third strike was dropped, forcing a throw to first. King was stealing on the strikeout pitch, and advanced all the way to third on the throw to first that got Brockinton.

Caleb Harpole then hit a sacrifice fly to deep left field that scored King for a 7-1 Cabot lead.

Back catching remained a problem throughout for MUS. McCutchen drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning and moved to third on a pair of groundouts. From there, he scored on another passed ball to set the final margin.

Cabot got six base hits, with Thomas leading the way, going 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, an RBI and a run scored.

Against Collierville, all the damage was done in the first two innings. Cabot fell behind 5-0 before a rally fell short in the seventh. The Panthers out-hit the Dragons 7-4, but two errors allowed two unearned runs that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Thomas again led the way offensively. He went 3 for 4 at the plate, with a double and two RBIs.

Against the undefeated Pointers, the score was tied 2-2 going into the fifth inning. That’s when Van Buren (10-0) put up six, two-out runs to take command. After a fly out to start the inning, a walk and an error left runners at the corners. Dylan Billingsley then struck out Chase Moore, but Ethan Holmes hit a two-out double to put his team up 4-2.

Billingsley then issued a walk before Ethan Rauser singled to score Holmes’ courtesy runner Spencer. Another error, this one on McCutchen, allowed another run, and another walk loaded the bases. That set up a two-RBI double by Evan Jones that made the score 8-2.

Cabot got two back in the bottom of the sixth. Davis Wofford hit a solo home run with one out before a single, an error and a walk loaded the bases. McCutchen then hit a sacrifice fly to score Harpole, but the rally ended with King’s grounder to shortstop.

Van Buren capped its scoring in the sixth inning when, with one out, a walk-single, walk-single sequence made it 10-4. Cabot loaded the bases with one out in the top of the seventh, but could only get one run to set the final margin.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS gets mixed results at Central

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans went 1-1 on the first day of the Central Arkansas Invitational, a massive 16-team, three-game guarantee, four-site tournament held during spring break every year. Jacksonville opened the tournament against site host Little Rock Central, and handled the Tigers 7-2. In the second round of the winners’ bracket, the Titans were mercy ruled 13-2 by Lonoke.

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows wasn’t overly excited about either game.

“We finally started playing in the first game, but Central really didn’t put any pressure on us,” said Burrows. “Wick (Jordan Wickersham) pitched well, so I’ll give him credit. But Lonoke didn’t wait on us. They jumped on us and we didn’t respond. We didn’t swing the bats. They’re athletic. They can get around the bases, and you can’t give away outs and not pay for it against a team like that. We gave away a bunch of them.”

In game one, Central held a 1-0 lead through five innings. The Tigers got a leadoff walk, and then a double by Aaron Mann. That’s how it stayed until the top of the sixth when the Jacksonville bats finally came alive.

Kameron Whitmore started the rally with a one-out grounded single to center field. Cade Sample then hit a line drive to center. The Tiger outfielder was caught between trying to dive for the ball and playing it on the hop, and ended up letting it bounce right past him.

The error allowed Whitmore to score from first base, while Sample stopped at second. Quentin Stallard made the second out with a grounder to short, but advanced Sample to third. Jayden Loving was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. Joe Cummings fell into a 0-2 hole, but then he was hit to load the bases.

Another inning-ending play was flubbed when no one got a glove on Payton Williams’ pop up between shortstop and third base. That allowed Sample to score, and set up a two RBI double to the center field wall by Deboious Cobbs that gave Jacksonville a 5-1 lead.

Central (1-10) got one back when Mann reached on an error at third base, moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, and then scored on a single by Mason Gresham.

Jacksonville (8-4) set the final margin in the top of the seventh. Trent Toney, Whitmore and Sample hit consecutive singles to start the inning, with Sample’s hit scoring Toney. Stallard then doubled down the line in left field to score Whitmore.

Wickersham went the distance on the mound. In seven innings of work, he gave up just four hits and one earned run while striking out 10 and walking three. He struck out the side in the third.

Against Lonoke (6-5), Jacksonville gave up 7 earned runs and five unearned. Making matters worse, the Titans lost catcher Kameron Whitmore on the second out of the third inning.

A pop up behind the plate was caught by Whitmore before Stallard barreled into his legs from first base. Burrows wasn’t certain about the extent of Whitmore’s injury, but was disappointed in his team.

“We know we’re not deep in pitching, so we’re going to have to swing the bats and we can’t waste outs,” Burrows said. “That kid (Lonoke pitcher Haven Hunter) is pretty good, but we’ve got to hit that guy if we’re going to beat anybody decent.

“Same thing with the kid from Central. He’s basically just out there throwing a fastball, and we didn’t do anything with it for five innings.”

SPORTS STORY >> ’Rabbits to semis of CAI

Leader sports editor

When Chris Foor took over as head coach of the Lonoke baseball program, his stated goal was to turn Lonoke, not just into a perennial 4A contender, but also into a program that could compete with anyone in the state. Just 11 games into his first season, early indications are the team is headed in that direction.

The evidence of that came on Thursday, the first day of the annual spring break classic, the Central Arkansas Invitational. The Jackrabbits beat top programs from two larger classifications at Central High, opening the day with a 9-5 victory over 5A Alma, then hammering 6A Jacksonville 13-2.

“This is what we’ve been looking for,” said Foor after the nightcap win over the Titans. “We’ve had some good wins. We’ve beaten some good teams, but we haven’t been consistent. We really put it all together in these two games. We pitched pretty well. We swung the bats really well. We still made a few more mistakes in the field than I’d like to see in the first game, but we got those down tonight. I’m really excited about the direction we’re headed.”

Cade Stewart threw four innings of no-hit ball against Alma. Airedale second baseman Zach Henson finally busted the no-hitter in the fifth with a leadoff double. He later scored after back-to-back two-out errors, but Lonoke already held a 5-0 lead by that point.

The scoring started when leadoff hitter Casey Martin ripped a single to opposite field in right. He stole second base, moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a grounder to shortstop by Dalton Smith.

Lonoke (6-5) wasted its next two opportunities to score with base running blunders. Tallon Swint hit a leadoff double in the second inning and moved to third on a wild pitch. After Caleb Horton struck out, Keith Lingo bunted down the first base line, but Swint was very late on the jump and was thrown out at home.

Kameron Cole then led off the third inning by drawing a walk. He moved to third on a double to right by Martin. Smith then grounded to shortstop again and reached safely when Cole tried to score on the play, and was also thrown out easily.

That left runners on the corners with one, and Lonoke started its first big rally from there. Haven Hunter hit a sacrifice grounder to second to score Martin. Stewart doubled to the wall in center field to score Smith, and then scored on a base hit to right field by Swint for a 4-0 Jackrabbit lead.

After a scoreless fourth, Martin, a University of Arkansas signee, sent the first pitch of the fifth over the wall in straightaway center field to make it 5-0.

After Alma’s run in the bottom of the fifth, Lonoke posted three more in the sixth. Horton drew a leadoff walk, stole second and took third on a wild pitch.

With one out, Christian Cooper walked to put runners on the corners, and Lonoke executed a double steal to get the first run across the plate. The throw went to second base, but Alma’s middle infielders seemed unsure if it was supposed to be cut off to keep Horton at third, or let through to get Cooper at second. The result was no one catching the ball at all, which allowed Horton to trot in for the run.

Martin then reached on an error at third base, and Smith doubled to center field to make the score 8-1.

Stewart did not return to the mound in the sixth, and Alma scored three runs. But Stewart did leadoff the seventh with his second shot to the center field wall, and later scored on a single by Cole.

Alma scored the final run of the game off Martin in the seventh, but did it without a hit. After a leadoff walk, a passed ball and an error set the final margin.

That set up a second-round game against Jacksonville, who had beaten Little Rock Central 7-2 earlier in the day. Lonoke’s last game before the CAI was a 7-6 loss to Central on March 16.

That was not evident in this match. Jacksonville scored first in the top of the first inning, and Lonoke answered in the bottom half. Hunter did not give up a hit the rest of his time on the mound, while he and his teammates posted back-to-back six spots in the second and third innings to win in dominant fashion.

The tournament was played with a “10 after four” mercy rule instead of the typical “10 after five” rule in order to stay on schedule, so the game only lasted through the middle of the fourth inning. Despite just three at-bats, Lonoke piled up 12 base hits.

Martin had two doubles and was intentionally walked once. He finished the day going 6 for 7 with three doubles, a home run and scored seven runs.

Stewart went 4 for 6 with two doubles, four RBIs and scored three times.

The tournament wraps up today at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers, Wildcats surprise SH Bears

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears unbeaten streak came to an abrupt and shocking end Thursday in the first round of the Central Arkansas Invitational. The previously 12-0 Bears took on the 2-5 El Dorado Wildcats in the first round and lost 8-4 at Mike Bromley Field in Sherwood.

Later that afternoon in the losers’ bracket, the Bears faced 2-10 Arkadelphia, a team they had beaten 12-0 earlier in the season, and lost 2-1. The last inning of that game becoming a microcosm of the day the Bears had.

Arkadelphia leadoff hitter Eric Groom hit a one-out grounder to shortstop, where Michael Coven flubbed it. Then, upon rounding up the loose ball, sailed his toss back to the pitcher into the Bears’ dugout, allowing Groom to reach second base. A failed pickoff allowed him to advance to third, and a balk walked in the game-winning run.

“I just don’t think we deserved to win either game,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “El Dorado just out-played us. They committed fewer errors, walked fewer, got more hits. Sometimes, you play good enough to deserve to win, and don’t win for whatever reason. But most of the time, the team that deserves to win does win, and that’s all that happened there. Then just now, I just thought Arkadelphia wanted to be here more than we did. We just didn’t deserve to win. It’s pretty simple.”

Against El Dorado, the Bears took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Coven drew a leadoff walk and Caleb McMunn singled.

Hunt hit a sac fly to move Coven to third. Three-straight walks drove in two runs, and Chaz Poppy’s sac fly scored Ryan Lumpkin for a 3-0 SH lead.

Three quick runs has been a recipe for success all season long for the Bears, but it didn’t hold on Thursday. El Dorado got one back in the third. Micah Haney singled and Connor Cates doubled to make it 3-1. Neither team scored in the fourth, and the Wildcats took the lead in the top of the fifth. Nine-hole hitter Daniel Johnson hit a leadoff double, and scored on an error at shortstop.

Brennan Smith walked and Jacob B0shears singled to drive in another run. Derek Jobe then doubled to right-center field to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead.

Sylvan Hills got one back with a single by Nick Fakouri and an RBI double by Zach Douglass in the bottom of the sixth. El Dorado then set the final margin with three runs on three singles and an error, all with two outs, in the seventh inning.

Sylvan Hills finishes the 16-team, four-site tournament today. The Bears will travel to rival Jacksonville in a return to conference play on Tuesday. That doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> JHS shooter earns All-American nod

Ryan Bowen of Jacksonville has been selected to the 2017 Sub-Junior (under the age of 15) All-American trapshooting second team, according to the Amateur Trapshooting Association.

More than 100 years old, trapshooting is a competitive sport of shooting at 4 1/4-inch clay targets with a shotgun.

Since being featured in The Leader last July for his winning efforts in the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, as well as other events, Bowen has added several more accolades to an already long list, garnering the ATA All-American honor.

The ATA hosts both the Grand American (the 11-day world tournament which in August drew 3,400 contestants to the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Ill.) and a series of “satellite” Grands (smaller, regional tournaments providing Grand American-style trophies and competition).

The association also sponsors five zone shoots.

To be considered for the All-American team, Bowen had to meet a minimum target requirement, and he had to have competed in at least three states.

Selection was made based on All-American points accumulated while winning trophies and posting high scores at tournaments throughout the country during the 2016 ATA target year.

The JHS sophomore’s excellent performance at the Grand American garnered him an abundance of trophies.

Significant among his victories, Bowen became the top Sub-Junior athlete in the Winchester Super 500 Doubles race, missing only three of the 500 targets. He also triumphed in his category with two perfect scores of 100x100 from 16-yards in the Sterling Cut Glass and the Champion of Champions events.

Additionally, Bowen hit all of his two hundred targets in the prestigious ATA World Clay Target Championship, and won the runner-up position in his category after a tiebreaker.

At the Southwest Zone, Bowen dominated his category, earning five trophies in becoming the Sub-Junior champion in the doubles championship with an impressive 100x100.

Bowen’s trapshooting talent was clearly evident at the Arkansas State shoot, where he won nine trophies and became the Sub-Junior champion in the Singles Championship, as well as the 1,000 target High-Over-All race.

Bowen also became the first ATA Sub-Junior athlete to become the state’s All Around champion, winning over the entire field of competitors in this 400-target contest.

Competing in the Missouri State shoot, Bowen brought home seven more trophies as a non-resident Sub-Junior, which included his victory over the challengers in his category in the 1,200-target High-Over-All race.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers play well, top Mavs

Leader sports editor

The Cabot baseball team won its second 7A-Central game in as many tries on Friday when it traveled to Fort Smith to defeat Southside 8-1. The Panthers led 7-0 before Southside finally scored in the sixth inning. Cabot added a run in the top of the seventh to set the final margin, and Michael Shepherd threw one shut out inning in the seventh to get the save.

Brett Brockinton pitched a solid six innings for the win, giving up just five base hits and no earned runs while striking out nine and walking no one.

Cabot went down in order in the first inning, but after a groundout to start the top of the second, the bats came alive at the bottom of the order. Five-hole hitter Houston King took a strike before becoming Cabot’s first base runner with a single to left. Brockinton then singled to put two runners on base.

Caleb Harpole hit a hard grounder to shortstop that was mishandled by Brock Thibodeaux, allowing King to score and leaving Brockinton safe at third. Brockinton scored during the next at-bat when a ball got by the Southside catcher.

Brockinton gave up a single in the bottom of the second, but came back to strike out the side.

Denver Mullins then got a two-out rally started with a line-drive single to left field. Ty Cyr took the Panther catcher’s place on the base paths, and Dillon Thomas singled to put runners on first and second.

King then doubled to score Cyr from second, and Brockinton walked to load the bases for Harpole. He came through with an RBI single to left, but Southside stopped the bleeding with a bases-loaded strikeout of Conner Linton to end the inning.

After another 1-2-3 inning by Brockinton, Cabot got four-straight base hits to start the top of the fourth inning. Kyler Franks got things rolling with a leadoff double to the wall in center field. McCutchen then sent a 2-1 pitch to center field to score Franks and give Cabot a 5-0 lead. Gray and Mullins followed that with back-to-back singles to load the bases.

Southside (3-6, 0-2) got McCutchen out at home on Thomas’ grounder to third, but King came through again with another RBI base hit to center field. With one out, Brockinton record another RBI with a fly-out to right field that allowed Cyr to score from third base.

Southside got two runners on with one out on a pair of singles. Kinner Basher hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice. With runners at first and third, Brockinton fanned Mason Love to get out of the jam.

Cabot (7-3, 2-0) only got a pair of walks over the next two innings and Southside finally got an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth.

Brockinton struck out Thibodeaux to start the inning, but Mullins dropped the third strike and Thibodeaux reached base safely. He advanced to third on a single by Mac Moody and scored on a sac fly by Jake Melton.

In the top of the seventh, Cabot set the final margin when Brodey Schluter drew a one-out walk, and scored with two outs on a double by McCutchen.

Cabot is taking part in the Best of the West Tournament in Memphis this week. Look for details of that tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls take title at Fayetteville Farmington

Leader sports editor

Outstanding pitching and timely hitting led to the Lady Panther softball team winning the highly competitive Fayetteville/Farmington Softball Challenge over the weekend, going 5-0 in two days, including three shutouts, to bring home the first-place trophy.

Cabot never trailed in the tournament, and that was important in 70-minute time-limit games.

“If you can get runs right off the bat, that’s pretty key, especially with that time limit,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “It was a good overall effort. We beat some good teams. Our bats have come alive a little bit. We’re hitting the ball and putting it in play – making other teams play a little defense.”

Lauren McCluskey threw a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Mena (1-7) in the opening game on Friday. Hannah Montgomery went 2 for 2 with two RBIs to lead Cabot offensively. Bethany Knowles and Rylie Hamilton got the only other base hits for Cabot, with Knowles recording an RBI and scoring two runs in the two-hole.

Next up was Bentonville West, and McCluskey pitched another shutout over five innings. The Lady Wolverines (7-3) managed two base hits. Cabot got nine hits in the game-two win, but was not as efficient with runners in scoring position. The Lady Panthers scored one run in each of the last four innings to set the final margin. Aubrey Lee went 3 for 3 with a run and an RBI. Grace Neal went 2 for 3 also with one run and one RBI.

On Saturday, McCluskey had to pitch her way out of trouble a few times in a 7-2 victory over Farmington. The Lady Cardinals piled up nine base hits, including a home run by Carley Antwine, but good defense kept most of those base runners stranded. That home run came in the bottom of the fifth after Cabot already built a 7-0 lead.

“Defensively we’re doing a lot better than when the season first started,” Cope said. “We’ve cut our errors about in half since the beginning of the year.”

Farmington threatened in the bottom of the first inning, but got too aggressive on the base paths. With runners on the corners and one out, Farmington tried a double steal, but Brandy Wallace was thrown out at home plate, and Alyssa Reed then grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.

The Lady Panthers’ first big inning came in the top of the second. Cleanup hitter Hannah Montgomery drew a leadoff walk before Lee put two in scoring position with a double to center field. McCluskey then singled to score to drive in one run, and a single by Rylie Hamilton drove in Lee and McCluskey’s courtesy runner, T. Peeples, for a 3-0 Cabot lead.

Farmington (6-4) put two on with one out again in the second inning, but Madison Parrish was picked off at second, and Camryn Journagan was thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Tracy Hanson.

Three-straight singles by Knowles, Neal and Montgomery started a four-run third inning by Cabot. Lee popped up for the first out, but McCluskey singled to center field to score Knowles while Neal was thrown out at third after tagging at second base.

That left two on for Hamilton, who tripled to the fence in right field for two RBIs, and then scored on a single by Anna Beth Duncan for a 7-0 lead.

In the championship doubleheader against Gravette, Cabot won by scores of 11-5 and 5-0. Montgomery got the win on the mound with four innings of work, and Cabot provided plenty of offense to support her, especially Montgomery herself.

She went 2 for 3 at the plate with a double, a home run and four RBIs. Lee went 1 for 3 with three runs batted in while Grace Neal and McCluskey got two hits apiece.

Cabot scored two in the top of the first and Gravette (6-6, 2-1) tied it at the bottom of the frame. The Lady Panthers then posted five in the second to take a commanding lead, then added four more in the third to go up 11-2. The Lady Lions scored three in the third but could get no closer.

McCluskey went back to the mound for the second game with Gravette, and pitched another two-hit shutout with two Ks and no walks. She also hit a two-RBI double in the bottom of the first inning, and added another RBI in the third to lead things offensively.

“We’re hitting it right now up and down the lineup,” Cope said. “One girl will have a good game one game, and then somebody else the next. And we’ve got girls that can swing it sitting on the bench, too. They just haven’t had the opportunity yet, just waiting their turn. We have a little more depth this year than we’ve had in the past. We’re starting four freshmen, and those are four of our top hitters.

Cabot (11-1, 2-0) will get back to 7A-Central Conference play on Tuesday with a home game against Conway (5-5-1, 1-1).

SPORTS STORY >> Titans shut down Badgers

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville bounced back from its worst outing of the year to hammer an injury-bitten Beebe Badger team 17-0 Friday at Dupree Park. The win was an important bounce-back effort after recording their worst outing of the year in dropping two mercy-rule games to Maumelle last Wednesday to open 5A/6A-Central Conference play.

“I think it was a good win for us,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “Sometimes young teams get hit in the mouth. You have to respond to that. We talked about, there’s nothing we can do about it except respond. Focus was good at practice on Thursday and they played pretty well.”

The Titans got an outstanding performance from freshman Kyle Williams on the mound. He threw a one-hitter over five innings of work, drawing praise from Burrows.

“They say momentum is as good as your next game’s pitcher,” Burrows said. “A lot of this win had to do with what Kyle was doing for us. He was coming in late for us early in the season, and he’s working his way up there. He did a great job.”

The game remained scoreless for two innings, but all the damage was done in the next two, ending the game in the middle of the fifth inning. Jacksonville showed signs in those first two innings of having the potential to score some runs.

Beebe sat the first six Jacksonville batters down in order, despite three of the six reaching base.

The Titans didn’t waste those base runners in the third and fourth innings.

“I didn’t know if we were going to have a big inning, but I felt good about our chances because of how Kyle was throwing,” Burrows said. “After watching him for a couple innings I felt pretty good about it. He’s just a freshman and we’re trying to help him grow up a little bit. The umpire called him for a balk and made him change his stance. That could’ve been detrimental, but he got back up, changed the way he set up on the mound and didn’t let it bother him. That was big for him. I was proud of that as much as anything else that happened out there.”

After a leadoff strikeout in the third inning, the next six Titan batters got base hits. J.D. Loving got the rally going with a one-out single that DeBoious Cobbs followed with a double to center field. Back at the top of the lineup, Gabe Helsley singled to drive in the two runners, and then scored himself on a double by Trent Toney.

The single-double combination continued with Kameron Whitmore singling to drive in a run, and Caden Sample doubling to right field to score Whitmore and put Jacksonville up 5-0. Quentin Stallard made the second out with a fly ball to right, but Joe Cummings continued the rally with an RBI base hit to left.

Jordan Wickersham, who led off the inning, reached on a throwing error by the pitcher that allowed Cummings to score and Wickersham to advance all the way to third.

Wickersham then scored on a passed ball to give Jacksonville an 8-0 lead.

The Titans then posted nine runs in the fourth, keeping the bats hot while Beebe sprinkled in a few walks and errors to help set the one-sided final margin.

Cobbs drew a leadoff walk before Helsley singled and Toney reached on an E6. Whitmore got his second base hit as well as his third and fourth RBIs to put Jacksonville up 10-0. Sample then drove two in with his second double of the game.

Stallard and Cummings followed with back-to-back singles that made it 13-0 and left two on base. Brandon McGuire, batting for Wickersham, walked to load the bases and Jonathan Smith, hitting for Loving, singled to left drive in another run.

On his second at-bat of the inning, Cobbs made the inning’s first out with an RBI groundout to second that scored Cummings. The final two runs crossed the plate after Rash, hitting for Helsley, reached on another throwing error by the Beebe infield.

Blaine Burge got the only base hit for the Badgers. He got to third base in the third inning and Bryson Halford also reached after getting hit by a pitch. But Williams fanned Noah Jolly to get out of the jam. Beebe (3-6-1, 1-3) also got runners on base in the second and fourth innings.

In the second, Alec Matlock walked with one out, but the next two batters grounded out back to the mound. Matlock drew a one-out walk again in the fourth, but Jacob Rogers hit into a 6-4-3 double play on the next at-bat.

Jacksonville (7-3, 0-2) takes part in the 16-team Central Arkansas Invitational that begins Thursday at four different sites in the area. The Titans will play twice tomorrow at Little Rock Christian Academy. They will face Little Rock Central at noon. If they win, they will play the winner between Lonoke and Alma at 7:30. A loss means a 5 p.m. game with the loser of Lonoke-Alma.

EDITORIAL >> NLR donates sirens to Ward

Ward residents can feel safer this spring thanks to the generosity of North Little Rock officials. They are donating four tornado sirens to Ward, where a couple of residents told the city council last week they can make the sirens work almost like new.

Dustin Johnson, who worked in public safety and information technology and oversaw Conway’s 22 sirens and storm-notification system, said he could get the donated siren heads operating manually at no cost.

The city is getting estimates on the costs to make them automated, which will set them off by radio instead of flipping a switch.

New poles to install the donated sirens will be around $1,000 a piece, plus the cost of wiring.

Ward’s three sirens are being repaired. Two are inoperable, and another wails but does not rotate to broadcast the sound.

Fire Chief Randy Staley said during severe weather the tornado sirens are sounded when the National Weather Service puts Ward in a warned polygon on the radar screen.

How important are tornado sirens? Resident Kyle Brooks said Lubbock, Texas (249,000 population), did not have working sirens in 2015. According to Brooks, the Lubbock mayor was voted out of office and replaced by a mayor who was elected with a platform of adding sirens.

Mayor Art Brooke thanked Brooks and Johnson for their research and work with the city on the tornado sirens. We also thank them and the good folks in North Little Rock for their generosity.

EDITORIAL >> Obamacare repeal stuck

The House of Representatives will vote on a Republican health-care bill on Thursday, but passage is uncertain as critics in the president’s own party balk at a plan that would hurt the working class and working seniors who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

The bill’s future is almost certainly doomed in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans, including our own Sen. Tom Cotton, know the devastating effect repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have in Arkansas, where more than 300,000 people have benefited from Medicaid expansion. That is why Gov. Asa Hutchinson, along with a handful of moderate GOP governors, such as John Kasich of Ohio, oppose the American Health Care Act, their party’s proposed Obamacare repeal legislation, which would cause 24 million people to lose their insurance.

The American Health Care Act, the governors wrote, “provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states.”

Hit the hardest will be the working poor and their children and seniors between 55 and 63 who are too young to retire. Those seniors could see their premiums increase more than 800 percent, according to the AARP.

Here’s something else you might not know: Medicaid covers 67 percent of births in Arkansas, but that will change if in 2020 Medicaid turns into a block grant and is capped at current levels for states and their residents, whose benefits will be frozen even if health-care costs rise, as they surely will. That will hurt Arkansas, which depends heavily on Medicare and Medicaid to keep its hospitals open, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Thousands of nursing home residents and elderly folks living at home also receive help from Medicaid. Their benefits could run out in three years if their needs are ignored.

Obamacare repeal will not happen anytime soon as Congress realizes that taking insurance away from 24 million people is wrong and will hurt almost every state burdened with rising health-care costs. For a poor state like Arkansas, which receives far more in federal aid than it sends to Washington in taxes, it would mean a loss of a stimulus program that not only insures our fellow citizens but pays our hospitals for the services they render instead of writing them off as charity care.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, told The New York Times last week, “There’s a widespread recognition that the federal government, Congress, has created the right for every American to have health care.” He said throwing people off their insurance or making coverage unaffordable would only shift costs back to taxpayers by overburdening emergency rooms.

“If you want to be fiscally responsible, then coverage is better than no coverage,” Cassidy said. Just ask any hospital administrator in the area how cutting off insurance for hundreds of thousands of Arkansans would affect North Metro Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Hospital, UAMS and all the rest. Many would close their doors forever.

TOP STORY >> FBI bares spying by Russians

Leader Executive editor

FBI director James Comey’s announcement at a House intelligence committee hearing Monday that the bureau is investigating allegations of Russian interference and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign in last year’s presidential election comes as no surprise.

It turns out the FBI has been looking into Russian meddling at least since last July, when we reported that several key aides in the Trump campaign had strong financial links to Russia and its brutal secret services, which directed as many as 1,000 hackers, many of them Russian gangsters, tasked with breaking into Democratic headquarters and their confidential emails. They were handed over to Wikileaks, which promptly released them.

Caught in the FBI dragnet are former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who reportedly received more than $10 million from Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian dictator; disgraced former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who accepted as much as $100,000 from the Kremlin but failed to register as a foreign agent while he was national security adviser to the Trump campaign; shadowy financier Carter Page, who made millions of dollars worth of deals in Russia and may also have failed to register as a foreign agent, and Roger Stone, the former Nixon dirty trickster who communicated with Guccifer 2, who directed the email hacks into Democratic headquarters.

Comey also confirmed Monday that there’s no evidence the Obama administration or British intelligence spied on Trump Towers, despite the president’s claims. Even Fox News has dismissed the accusation and has benched former Judge Andrew Napolitano, who picked up the false story from Russian intelligence and aired the allegations on “Fox and Friends.”

Those spurious claims are still being regurgitated on web sites with ties to the Kremlin. Comey seems to be pointing to a worldwide conspiracy orchestrated by Russian dictator Vladmir Putin, who sees himself as the spiritual heir to Nicholas II, the czar who was overthrown during the Russian Revolution 100 years ago. Putin came up the ranks through the Stalinist KGB, which he directed until the fall of communism.

As leader of his failed state, Putin wants to return Russia to the glory days of communism and subvert western democracies while the Russian people are denied their freedoms.

The tiny tyrant has stolen tens of billions of dollars from his own people and cut their social services. Who outside Russia would take money from this tinfoil dictator and accept his endorsement?

“The Kremlin hillbilly is our preoccupation,” wrote the poet Osip Mandelstam about the tyrant Stalin, who had Mandelstam arrested and murdered in Siberia.

“Round him a mob of thin-necked henchmen,” Mandelstam wrote in his Stalin epigram. “He forges decree after decree, like horseshoes – in groins, foreheads, in eyes, and eyebrows.”

The FBI should use Mandelstam’s poem as an epigram for its much-awaited report that will point out the traitors among us.

TOP STORY >> Agencies speak out over cuts in social programs

Leader staff writer

Congress will vote Thursday on repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — some know it as Obama-care — which could leave many Arkansans without health insurance. Proposed budget cuts will eliminate or endanger programs like Meals on Wheels, low-income energy assistance, food stamps and many more in a state that leads the country in seniors going hungry. (See food pantry story on right.)

In general, one in five Arkansans are struggling with hunger, while 28 percent of the state’s kids are food insecure — meaning they may or may not have an evening meal or breakfast, so the federal lunch program and after-school programs are paramount to their immediate- and long-term health.

SNAP, the latest term for the federal food stamp program, is administered by the federal Department of Agriculture.

All these programs are intertwined and work together, said Nancy Conley, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance communication director.

The Natural State will be hit particularly hard, she said Tuesday.

“Arkansas is one of these because it has one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S.,” she said.

As many as 857,359 (the state’s total population is not quite 3 million) Arkansans were covered by Medicaid in 2016, according to, and the number of uninsured was reduced by 57 percent between 2013 and 2015.

These same people often qualify for other programs.


Buster Lackey, Lonoke County Council on Aging inc. (LCCA) executive director, is distressed by proposed budget cuts in Washington.

“I’m very concerned about budget cut talks, even though I know it’s just the first round…It’s already hard for the state and local agencies to take care of the people in need. Our funding can’t go any lower.”

He referred to a comment by White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney: We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.

Mulvaney said he was talking about the Community Development Block Grant programs and not Meals on Wheels, but in reality many states use those funds to help with the senior program, Lackey said.

He continued, “I invite any and all local and state legislators to go with me on a lunch (Meals-on-Wheels) delivery run or sit down with seniors at lunch (at the Lonoke Senior Center). Then they would understand the depth of the problem.”

So far, none have, he said.

The LCCA feeds as many as 500 seniors each day, and in Lonoke County, he added, “There are more than 11,000 seniors….We’re trying to reach them all.”


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to cut food stamps as much as $23 billion.

Conley said, of “those receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits in fiscal year 2016, 71 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; 40 percent are in “working families.”

Arkansas is No. 1 in senior hunger and food insecurity in the nation, meaning one in four senior Arkansans are already struggling.

Brandi Johnston, director of development at Arkansas Rice Depot, said the Arkansas stats are depressing. More than 23 percent of Arkansas seniors — that’s about one in four — are dealing with hunger or food insecurity.

Some see churches as the answer to hunger, but Conley said, the statistics don’t back that up.

For example, “If you have 20 grocery bags and one is orange, that one represents contributions of a charitable food network. The other 19 are assistance from the USDA. Churches could never come close to meeting those demands” of the hungry across the nation, Conley said.

Arkansas is aware of its senior hunger program, but in the three years since the state has been named number one, little progress has been made.

To further complicate the senior poverty problem, said Tomiko Townley, manager of Central Arkansas Development Council’s (CADC) Snap and Older Adult Outreach. “Other programs are (possibly) on the chopping block.”

“The needle has hardly moved. The state budget is already squeezed and any cuts will hurt the populations in need,” she said.

Townley said, “We hear horror stories about what people are doing to make it.”

The nonprofit works in 12 Arkansas counties.

When economic times are good, the need for social services goes down, but when times are hard, these are sorely needed, she said. And people who qualify for SNAP probably qualify for other low-income services such as Arkansas Works (the state’s version of Obamacare), Medicaid and LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program), Conley said.

Vets need help, too

Veterans, young and old alike, often need a variety of services to make it in the short run but sometimes in the long-term. (See story on p. 1A.)

Townley said, “Unfortunately we see lots of veterans. The stats on vets are hard to get and while they are supported, the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), it doesn’t help with utilities or food.”

That’s where CADC tries to help.

But veterans, as well as the working poor and seniors, are reluctant to take advantage of the programs in place.

“There’s a stigma to asking for help. These people often experience a feeling of failure, but we have to convince people, this program is for you. It will help you,” Townley said.


If people can’t put food on the table, they probably don’t have electricity, and, Townley said, the president’s budget completely eliminates LIHEAP, which is paid for through Community Services Block Grants.

LIHEAP falls under the CADC.

The program is divided into two parts: Regular, which helps with or pays for a gas, propane or electric bill one time; and crisis, which helps with or pays for a shut-off bill up to $500. Both programs can be used by a qualified participant one-time, said Mary Abshure, Lonoke County LIHEAP community participation supervisor.

Persons receiving aid from LIHEAP, which is available in 12 counties through CADC, are connected to other family development resources and government programs, which provide a link to long-term resources to help families become self-reliant over the years, according to the CADC.

Mary Abshure, Lonoke County LIHEAP community participation supervisor, said she knows this program is vital to county residents.

“Absolutely, we know it’s needed because of the numbers we help,” Abshure said.

In Lonoke County alone last year, 2,103 applications received a total of $327,000 in assistance. There were 1,627 who collectively received $217,000 in regular assistance and 476 who collectively received $110,000 for crisis assistance.

During that same period in 12 counties, LIHEAP approved $22,810 for both programs, at a cost of about $4,869,000.

So far this year, 920 LIHEAP applications have been processed, with the amount totaling $128,000.

The numbers who qualify for this program in Arkansas “are staggering,” said Townley, who is often involved on in-take and sign-up days.


Trump Care, AKA Trump’s version of healthcare, insists that all able-bodied people on Medicaid must get a job, Conley said, but sometimes people need a little help, like a vet just returning from Iraq, a new mother or a woman battling breast cancer.

“We look at all these programs separately but these are all interconnected, and they are an investment in our future,” Conley said about the people and children who benefit from the variety of programs that keep so many Arkansans from disappearing though the cracks.

Together, these programs can be life and death or life and health, Conley said.

Any cuts will also further stretch the state’s already lean budget, and Townley agrees.

“It will make the state’s job harder,” and, she said, “We’re already struggling with the limited resources we have. Restricting any money from the federal government will only make it worse.”

These monies are “often a bridge to help to someone get to the other side.

The stats show that it’s usually a temporary fix and it definitely lifts people out of poverty,” Townley said.