Guest Blog (John F. Gajda): State budget cuts will impact people with developmental disabilities

From time to time, we use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This entry is from John F. Gajda,  Executive Director of TARC, an organization that advocates for the rights of citizens with developmental disabilities.

It’s hard to read a newspaper or listen to a local news programs without hearing about new or planned funding cuts for services provided by Oklahoma state and local governments.

As advocates for people with developmental disabilities and their families, TARC is concerned about how changes in state funding will impact services for these individuals.

The Developmental Disabilities Service Division (DDSD) of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) is the largest provider of services to individuals with developmental disabilities in Oklahoma. When talking about cuts to the OKDHS budget it is easy for the needs of the people served by DDSD to not receive much attention. Cuts of the magnitude currently being proposed for OKDHS in State Fiscal Year (SFY) ’11 must, however, trickle down to DDSD and directly impact the lives of thousands of individuals.

Managing cuts to OKDHS in DDSD means lowering the cost of providing waiver services to all those currently served by DDSD. Each of the options being considered offers its own set of problems Do you lower provider rates? Do you reduce the number of people served? Do you cut the amount of service each individual can receive? None of these options would be good for people with disabilities and their families. Yet some or all of these changes will be implemented if OKDHS and DDSD must manage a further reduction in funding. How large each adjustment will be depends on the level of cuts imposed by the legislature.

In Oklahoma we have a community service system in which actual services, funded by the state, are provided by a network of community-based provider organizations. These small private businesses provide employment to thousands of employees throughout the state that work with and provide support to individuals with disabilities. The major cost of running these provider organizations is employing the necessary personnel to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. Staff salaries have not been increased over many years and community provider organizations are finding it more difficult to retain qualified staff. Most have already made adjustments in their operations to cut costs. Rate reductions, which are now on the horizon due to looming budget cuts, will push some organizations out of business. The continued viability of the current community service system is threatened. We might not end up with sufficient organizations to continue to serve current DDSD clients.

For those on the DDSD waiting list, the biggest news this past year has been what has not happened. – for the first time, no individuals have been moved from the waiting list and provided waiver services. In SFY ‘10 those served by waivers will actually decrease and the waiting list has grown to over 5,300 individuals. The number of individuals on the waiting list is now for the first time larger than the number of individuals currently being served by waiver programs. Thus, while the numbers of people requesting services grows and their needs remain unmet, fewer people are being served. The outlook for SFY ’11 offers no hope if there are larger budget cuts and any hope of actually receiving services is fast becoming an unattainable dream.

Further cuts in the DDSD budget for the coming state fiscal year that begins on July 1st should be a great concern for people with developmental disabilities and their families who currently receive services and those who on the waiting list. To prevent crippling budget cuts and a dramatic change in services, concerned citizens of Oklahoma need to let the Oklahoma legislative leadership know that they support revenue enhancement measures that were proposed in the Governor’s Budget. At current revenue levels dramatic cut must be made to balance the state budget. There are proposals on the table that could make a difference in the lives of people with developmental disabilities in SFY ’11.

Allowing funding cuts of between 7 and 25% is a gloomy option that looms over the future of the disability service system and the lives of many individuals. Only the immediate outcry of advocates can prevent it.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

11 thoughts on “Guest Blog (John F. Gajda): State budget cuts will impact people with developmental disabilities

  1. I have a disabled brother who needs 24/7 care. He has no speech and can’t take care of himself. I am a teacher and have been for 30 years. These clients need to be taken care of. I have special needs students in my classroom cause I teach special ed. There are so many things that they are missing out on. We don’t need any cuts to any of these programs. They are overworked and under paid, the staff caregivers. someone has to help us provide for the ones who can’t provide for themselves.

  2. Families of disabled children can not afford to have this reduction. They need our support and this needs to be a priority for the state of Oklahoma. We need to stand up and take care of the people who are not able to take care of themselves. Please take the correct action and do not let us down. These special people are God’s children and we can not fail them. The families out there that are taking care of thier needs but financial assistance is required. This would cause major hardship. Oklahoma is a fine state and we must help our disabled all we can. God Bless.

  3. As state law makers consider drastically cutting the funding of DDSD they are demonstrating that they are hopelessly unaware of what developmentally disabled individuals face in everyday life. There is still so much prejudice and negative stereotyping of people with mental challenges that it is heartbreaking to realize that politicians continue to think that the lives of this population can be manipulated without serious repercussions. If they make these cuts they will be saving money at the expense of thousands of people who are dependent on those in power to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. People with developmental disabilities are constituents too, and they deserve representation just as much as anyone else.

    The individuals employed by sheltered workshops have made extraordinary efforts to become proficient at a wide variety of skills. Through sheer desire and will power they have learned to perform tasks that give them the chance to work and be a benefit to society. To have such a strong desire to be productive and to master job skills when some of those same individuals require assistance tying their shoes demonstrates just how much it means to them to be employed. Just as importantly, they develop friendships and learn interpersonal skills as they interact with their co-workers. They become part of a team as they strive to achieve common goals. They have a strong sense of belonging that raises their self-esteem. They develop a positive self-image, which for many is a new experience since for most of their lives society has focused only on the things they can’t do.

    Individuals with mental challenges have struggled all their lives to fit in and be a part of the community. They have fought to enjoy the same rights and opportunities that most of us take for granted. For the state to turn its back on them now is morally wrong. That is not what the taxpayers want. They do not want to decimate the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens in order to save some money. The people of our state want their tax dollars spent wisely so that it does the most good. What better use can there be for that money than improving the lives of people who have been neglected and treated as social outcasts for so many years? We cannot turn back the clock to a time when developmentally disabled people were forced to be second class citizens. It has been a long difficult battle for them to gain acceptance and equality, and it would be tragic to give all that progress back now. Oklahoma is filled with good, caring people who do not want the innocent to suffer unfairly. We need to show courage and wisdom as we consider the upcoming budget cuts. Each person that is at risk from these financial decisions is someone’s son, daughter, grandchild or sibling. They are human beings that are loved and that have love to give in return.

    If the proposed budget cuts to DDSD go through, people with developmental disabilities could lose their jobs and even their homes through no fault of their own. They have done nothing wrong. They have played by the rules that we established, and yet we are ready to take it all away from them. That is not right. Our elected leaders have to be willing to take a stand on behalf of those who have been taken advantage of so often in the past. Someday any one of these legislators could have a child or grandchild with a developmental disability. Should that occur they will want that child to have every opportunity to lead a happy, normal successful life with all the help that will be needed to make that a reality.

    The world can be a confusing place for all of us, but imagine how confusing it can sometimes be for someone who is mentally challenged. How can we expect them to understand when they are told they are losing their job even though they’ve been an excellent employee? How can they possibly understand when they are forced to move out of the home they love and share with their friends? We have to better people than that. We cannot treat our fellow citizens so cruelly. We have to look within ourselves and determine what kind of society we want to be. Is every decision we make regarding innocent people’s lives going to be financially driven? Are we willing to destroy the lives of other human beings to save a dollar? Are we willing throw away decades of hard-fought progress for short term monetary gain? Has it come to this?

    In many ways the legislature now holds the lives of the developmentally disabled in their hands. These trusting individuals are counting on us to step up and make intelligent but, even more importantly, compassionate decisions. Every person deserves to live a safe, healthy life with dignity, but all of this will be put in jeopardy if state funding for DDSD is drastically cut. The financial decisions that are about to be made are not really about money, they are about what we value. Do we care about each other? Are we willing to help each other? Will we provide the supports and assistance necessary so that everyone can thrive in our state, or are we so concerned about money that we will take advantage of the most vulnerable among us? If these cuts go through, and thousands of disabled individuals lose their jobs and their homes, we will all share in the disgrace and the shame.

  4. Is it true that DDSD has over 6000 employees? That is government bloat at it’s finest. As this indicates over one State employee for every individual served, perhaps the cost reductions should start there. I have been in meetings with DDSD and often wondered why it took 4-5 people to meet with the provider. It appears they have to do something to justify the bloat.

  5. You are mistaken BB Lane there are only 474 DDSD employees, that are very much over worked. I don’t know what county you work in maybe you should get your facts straight before you start suggesting that people loose their jobs. Would you like someone making a comment about your current job? How do you think DDSD employees will feed their families?

  6. I am a single mother of two biological, grown Down Syndrome (children). I have raised my kids myself…no help from their father or anyone else! They deserve their livelihood, just like everyone else. Do not take that away from them. Budget cuts…..our lawmakers must not have disabled children or relatives of their own, or they wouldn’t be doing what they are planning to do! Shame on them!!! The repercussions of these budget cuts would be undescribable and very shameful to the state of Oklahoma. If this takes place, my kids and I will leave this state.

  7. In the last 20 to 25 years, Oklahoma has made great strides in supports and services delivered to people with developmental disabilities. The current service system has become a benchmark for quality and innovation, particularly in the vocational area. The proposed cuts to rates and services will effectively decimate that progress in one fell swoop and set us back 25 years. On May 6th, almost 2,000 people with developmental disabilities, their families, advocates and service providers came to the State Capitol to express support for these programs. This kind of response demonstrates how serious their concerns are over continued funding for their programs. While it is true that every department in state government is facing a budget shortfall, there are few departments where the cuts could have more serious consequences than cuts to developmental disabilities services. The results will be devastating and could even jeopardize lives. In Section XXV of the Oklahoma State Constitution, the State PROMISED to provide support and care for vulnerable citizens. Let’s keep that promise.

  8. My biggest gripe is that only three individuals are working on the budget. All 3 will not be here due to term limits. I wish I could think of a way to punish them for their arrogance and pitiless behavior!

  9. DDSD has recently made and continues to make ‘family unfriendly’ policy. For the families who have chosen to keep their person with them–You must wake up and be aware of the proposed policies before they are passed because after they pass there seems to be little one can do.

    The DDSD policymakers passed policy that does not allow family or anyone living with a client to work more than 40hrs/wk. This does not save DDSD any money because they will continue to pay the agencies the same amount no matter who works the hours. There are some clients who are very difficult to staff and families have sacrificed alot to keep their person at home. The agencies were dealing with this by lowering the pay per hour of workers who worked overtime, thus not paying out more than they were receiving.

    WHY MAKE THESE ‘FAMILY UNFRIENDLY’ POLICIES? Well, the policy makers told me it was because they felt like there were families trying to get 24hr care for their person and employ everyone in the family. Personally, I believe that they plan on passing policy not paying families to be the caretakers anymore. This would force many individuals into group or DLS homes. The agencies who contract with DDSD may be behind this because they are very well organized and closely watching proposed policy and will make more money from their client living in a group type home as opposed to living in their own home or with family.

    It seems like

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