Budget plan brings more bad news for Oklahoma seniors, children, & people with disabilities

Photo by Carlton Browne / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Carlton Browne / CC BY 2.0

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.

[pullquote]“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.’”[/pullquote]

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.

And more

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.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

8 thoughts on “Budget plan brings more bad news for Oklahoma seniors, children, & people with disabilities

  1. How can Mary Fallin and her staff support these changes in good conscience? They have frozen in place millions in funds to assure that they get their raises next year at the expense of the poor, elderly, struggling families that are doing the best they can. Also the remodeling of the Capitol valued at Millions. Can’t they just repair the safety concerns but wait until the state is doing better to put in a “Reflection Pool”?? I am really in Shock at the lack Empathy !! Sincerely Wanda Montellano

  2. Budget cuts to developmental disabilities will more than likely lead to yet another federal lawsuit for the state of Oklahoma . The state has gone thru a federal lawsuit once already for not providing adequate services for this most fragile population of are citizens. The lawmakers must fully fund DHS developmental disabilities division .

  3. Thats an easy one, Wanda. Fallin and the majority of the legislature have no conscience. Throw in lack of a moral compass as well.

  4. Legislators and Governor,

    Why are we doing without and suffering while you get to reap benefits. I thought by voting for you to help was to look out for what is best for the people of Oklahoma. Making those who depend on services due without while you get a raise and get to live fancy while people who voted get treated like the dirt that gets walked on. You all need to live on 17,000. dollars or less a year and then be told we are going to take more away from you. I ask that I am there when you stand before God and tell him the least of his people had to due without so they could have more.

  5. Do the legislatures even read this? Rainy day fund? Don’t these people realize there’s a flood! You take pay cuts instead of cutting the poorest of the poor! How powerful do you feel deciding and controlling the lives of people who vote you in? Where are your priorities? What a disgrace all of you are! If you lived like we do, you could manage on a lot less! I’ve lived here all my life and now ashamed to be @n Oklaman. You should be very ashamed of yourselves! Oh wait, that’s assuming you have a conscience!

  6. Have always been proud to be an Oklahoman. Am disappointed and ashamed of our State officials. Just when us baby boomers need help, it conveniently disappears. Such a tragady of greed. Fallin will Fallin her own pit. It is written!

  7. In all the confusion of budgets and politics and opinions, there is one simple truth. If we don’t put the needs of “the least of them” at the top of our priority list, there no way God will ever be able to prosper Oklahoma!
    Come on legislators that know that in your
    heart already. Stand up and do the right thing!

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