The Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ announcement serves as another wound to the festering reputation of Gov. Mary Fallin and the most recent Oklahoma Legislature.
The agency still anticipates being about $55 million underfunded for the rest of its fiscal-year 2017 budget.
The Tulsa World detailed the full list of OKDHS cuts, but even examining just a few should display the pernicious effects of not being able to fund Oklahoma’s already limited state government adequately:
- Reduction of contracts for autism services
- Reduction in respite care funding for family caregivers
- 10 percent reduction in all TANF contracts
- Elimination of DHS staff and funding for the 211 Helpline
While these and the other changes announced by OKDHS director Ed Lake might sound bureaucratic to many Oklahomans, the safety-net and family-support services provided by the agency are critical for families with disabled members, autistic children or limited incomes.
So even though many parents, teachers and advocates continue to be up in arms over Oklahoma’s education-funding crisis, it’s important for people to realize that the same thing plaguing classrooms is plaguing other core government services.
Indeed, it’s another rough headline to swallow in a year of them.
Cuts jeopardize Pinnacle Plan progress
Compounding OKDHS’s funding woes is the fact that the agency and its child-welfare systems finally appear to be making progress under the Pinnacle Plan, a document adopted in 2012 to address decades of unsatisfactory outcomes for vulnerable Oklahoma children.
The July 2016 Pinnacle Plan report, for instance, shows a rise in foster care homes and an increase in percentage for caseworker contacts.
Those are excellent developments that Lake, Fallin and many others should be proud of. As NonDoc reported in November, the governor’s team, agency employees and other partners have worked hard to promote improvement through the Pinnacle Plan, which was forced upon the state after years of inaction.
But the governor’s office is unfortunately saddled with the reality that any cut to OKDHS resources will jeopardize improvement that the agency has made. Further, when OKDHS is forced to trim tens of millions of dollars from its budgets, the lives and well-being of children are also jeopardized.
Like it or not, Fallin and GOP legislative leaders have made a big show of refusing to roll back (or even delay) a costly income tax cut.
Every time news breaks of an agency with the stature and mission of OKDHS having to cut $45 million, it begs us to question these elected officials’ priorities.
While a Wednesday headline only serves as a reminder of the most recent session’s budget challenges, reduced payments for those providing services to autistic children serves as a cup-and-a-half of scalding-hot ball bearings into our state’s collective stomach.
Past the teeth and over the gums, look out public, here it comes.
So stop cutting services for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, you guys.