Struggling families need expanded ARKids First now.

In 2009, the legislature and Gov. Mike Beebe promised health coverage to thousands of uninsured Arkansas children. They made that promise possible with an increase in the tobacco tax.

Since then, more Arkansas families have lost their jobs, foreclosed on their homes, and stare at empty pantries. Now, more than ever, these families need help surviving the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, tobacco revenues have come in higher than expected, while ARKids First expansion has been delayed by endless state and federal negotiations. The money from the tobacco tax is available and has already been promised to our state’s uninsured children. It just hasn’t been applied there yet, due to bureaucratic hold-ups.

It would be tragic if thousands of children came so close to better health care, only to be denied health insurance because of bureaucratic delays and broken promises.

We acknowledge the financial situation that the state faces right now. But families are worse off, as they face daily decisions such as whether to pay their medical bill or their electricity bill.

Gov. Mike Beebe and Arkansas lawmakers should ensure that struggling families are able to survive this recession and be in a better position to prosper when it is over by using the tobacco tax revenues to insure these children now. The money is there. Let’s put it where it was intended and where it will be most beneficial – making sure that Arkansas children have access to affordable health coverage.