Erin Taylor, PhD is a mother to five and a disability advocate living in Oklahoma City. Her previous guest post, “What I Didn’t Get From My Tax Cut,” ran in March.
Like many advocates, I’m still recovering from the Capitol last week where our elected officials passed a trash can punch of a budget. It reeks of classism and party dogma. As an Oklahoma mother who sends my children to public school and colleges, uses child support, and holds Medicaid (TEFRA) on my child with a developmental disability, our family will be paying the price.
I also work on behalf of some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable – adults with intellectual disabilities and families coming to terms with their child’s developmental disability. Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and chronic medical conditions are vulnerable because of the choices we make as a state to not fund adequate supports, whether they be family-based, caretaking, medical, therapeutic or disability-oriented. The greatest challenge facing these Oklahomans is not the diagnosis but the lack of services and financial resources. If we insisted that our state human services, mental health, and Medicaid agencies were humanely funded, we’d see a sharp decline in the number of Oklahomans we classify as vulnerable. Instead, we’d have viable Oklahomans, making use of their supports, so they can exist as tax-paying, financially secure citizens.
The Legislature did pass a minor mercy through SB 694 which, in part, held harmless waiver programs in Developmental Disability Services (DDS). This affords a sigh of relief for families who rely on this funding to support a loved one, but it in no way alleviates the wait for the 7200+ families on the DDS Waiting List. More importantly, OKDHS will have to cut programs and staffing in other sectors because the Legislature did not budget the agency more money – it simply told them they had to spend a considerable portion of their funds solely toward Child Welfare and DDS.
“If we insisted that our state human services, mental health, and Medicaid agencies were humanely funded, we’d see a sharp decline in the number of Oklahomans we classify as vulnerable. Instead, we’d have viable Oklahomans, making use of their supports, so they can exist as tax-paying, financially secure citizens.”
This budget erodes the already tenuous finances for hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma families. OKDHS must halt new applications for subsidized child care. Child Support Enforcement, Adult Protective Services, Foster Care and Aging Services will see deep cuts. Thousands of OKDHS employees, who chose emotionally toiling work with lackluster salaries, will leave the agency, whether through voluntary buy-outs or layoffs.
Everyone loses in this budget – education, mental health, first responders, roads, disability services, medical providers, health departments, the arts. Oklahomans lose. And in the coming months, people will complain on social media about how this impacts their lives. My response will be, “What did you say to your legislator every week?” You must participate in government before you have the right to complain you got screwed over by it. Like any relationship, you must show up and speak up to have your input matter. This means sending an email, making a call, or better yet, making the time to meet with your legislator any time during the year. As I’ve said before, we are not an interruption in a legislator’s work, we are the purpose of their work.
We can blame our elected officials for the budget sinkhole, but it falls back on us. We put them there. We allowed them to remain there. We didn’t make them answerable to us. And we are either the intentional force behind their choices or the Oklahomans who don’t count.
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