Adapting to the Evolving Needs of Arkansans
When we hear the latest from Washington each day, it is easy to get distracted by the drama of disagreements. But what you don’t usually see on the news are the things we agree on, and the work behind the scenes that truly touches families and hardworking Arkansans.
Looking back on 2021, I’m proud of the work my staff and I did to strengthen veterans services, expand Arkansas’s role in support of our national defense and protect the metropolitan area classification that communities in our state rely on for federal resources and economic opportunity.
These initiatives improve lives and are an example of what we can accomplish in Washington when we find common ground.
Beyond the legislative work, I am most proud of how my office has helped thousands of Arkansans directly in an extremely challenging year. Serving people has always been one of my top priorities, from my career as an optometrist to my time in public office. In 2021, my office received 3,480 requests for help with federal agencies and each month brought new questions, problems and roadblocks to help overcome.
The bulk of requests this year reflect that we are still wrestling with the aftermath of 2020 and the echo of broad shutdowns that continue to impact government agencies at every level. The challenges were especially clear during the summer’s passport debacle and the ongoing struggles of the IRS. Those are areas where 2020 finally caught up with us – backlogs of applications, increased demand and many government offices still working remotely. The latter issue is something I continue calling on federal agency leaders to address by returning employees back to the office.
Over the summer, the Passport Agency started reopening facilities when it was crushed with historic pent-up demand for business and education travel in addition to reunions among families who had been separated for far too long. Between May and July alone, more than 250 Arkansans reached out for assistance getting urgent passports. We helped them navigate a system that changed daily and pushed through emergencies that the bureaucracy could not handle. As we end the year, processing times are not back to normal, but the agency is handling applications smoothly and we are able to offer more direct assistance for emergencies.
Unlike passports, the challenges with the IRS backlog continue as some Arkansans are still waiting for their 2020 tax refunds. In a typical year, I only receive a handful of requests for help with delayed tax refunds and other IRS issues. In 2021, we received 395 calls for IRS assistance. These were mostly from Arkansans fighting to get a tax return processed and many who are still seeking their Economic Impact Payments. This is a problem I will continue working to resolve in the year ahead.
Despite the unique difficulties Arkansans faced in 2021, I remain optimistic because of the spirit and resilience I’ve seen across the state. Over the last 12 months I’ve had the honor of visiting people in their businesses, farms, service organizations, schools and countless other places where Arkansans are finding creative solutions and rising to the occasion in support of their neighbors.
As we end this year, I am inspired by everyone who looks around their community and asks, “How can I help?” I will continue to do my best to keep that question in mind for my work at the federal level and ensure that my office is a place Arkansans can turn to when in need of assistance.
12-31-21 2:53 p.m. KAWX.ORG