Earlier this month, we warned that important protections for seniors, children, and Oklahomans with disabilities were crumbling because the Department of Human Services had already made “the easy cuts” and was now forced to make cuts that directly hurt our most vulnerable citizens.
Now, it looks like those consequences will get worse. Oklahoma’s proposed FY 2017 budget would restore some of this year’s mid-year cuts but would leave DHS 4 percent below its 2016 funding level. According to DHS, this will leave the agency $103 million in the hole, and it will require cuts to a wide range of direct services. The largest potential cuts would be to community living and support services, adult and family services, and developmental disabilities services. Here are some of the consequences of this harmful budget plan:
Eliminating investigations of mistreatment of vulnerable adults
The Adult Protective Services division at DHS provides protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation for vulnerable adults who cannot independently manage their own affairs or protect themselves from harm. The proposed cuts by DHS would eliminate investigations of financial exploitation and mental health referrals. The cuts would also reduce staff, which would delay response times for calls made about abuse, neglect, or exploitation in communities and nursing homes and compromise the agency’s ability to report abusive providers to the state Abuse Registry. In FY 2015, APS completed nearly 15,000 investigations of mistreatment. More than 6,000 were found to be substantiated.
An end to affordable child care; longer waits for food and utility bill assistance
Adult and Family Services provide help to some of the poorest families in Oklahoma with services like child care subsidies, nutrition assistance, cash assistance, and refugee services. Subsidized child care, which is already mostly unavailable for working parents, is about to become even less accessible: DHS has already announced that enrollment will be frozen on June 1. The only exceptions will be children or their families who are already involved with DHS – for instance, children in foster care will continue to be eligible.
“Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) predicted that cuts to DHS will ‘lead to new lawsuits similar to the one that resulted in court-ordered changes to the state’s child welfare system.’”
This cut could leave up to 2,000 families per month on a subsidy waiting list, and means many parents will have to leave the workforce because they don’t have options to care for their children*.
Meanwhile, other cuts will eliminate staff in child care licensing, which provides oversight for summer day camps, child care centers and more. DHS reported that these cuts could lead to a “general reduction in the quality of child care, safety, and well-being of children in Oklahoma.”
And there’s more. Staff cuts for SNAP and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides winter heating and summer cooling assistance, will likely lead to longer delays in processing applications. Families who can’t afford food and utility bills would be left waiting.
Vanishing help for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities
Just shy of 1,900 adults with developmental disabilities receive in-home support services through a Medicaid waiver operated by DHS. Thousands more are on a waiting list, with some waiting more than a decade. DHS has proposed reducing or eliminating the waiver, leaving families with no option but to try to cobble together the funds to hire home health aides. On top of that, DHS could reduce contracts with providers of respite care and family support for those caring for family members with developmental disabilities.
Other proposed cuts include cutting funding for the 2-1-1 Oklahoma helpline by half, reducing provider rates and staff for the ADvantage program that helps people stay at home instead of going to a nursing home, eliminating contracts with Meals on Wheels, and closing 50 meal sites for food-insecure seniors – a loss of about 500,000 meals.
However, DHS’s proposed reductions only total $94 million in state dollars – which still leaves a shortfall of $9 million. It’s not clear what else would be on the table, but it’s virtually certain that none of it would be good. In debating on the budget in House committee, Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) predicted that cuts to DHS will “lead to new lawsuits similar to the one that resulted in court-ordered changes to the state’s child welfare system.”
Sorely inadequate funding for DHS is yet another reason why lawmakers should reject this budget proposal and build a better budget that saves needed services for vulnerable Oklahomans.
* A statement that the subsidy freeze would “eliminate funding for nearly 2 in 3 child care facilities in the state” was found to be inaccurate and has been removed from the paragraph.