OPEA is calling for a special legislative session to look at funding core services provided by state agencies. This comes after the Department of Human Services announced its plan to deal with a budget shortfall. DHS Director Ed Lake announced Tuesday that approximately 200 positions at DHS were to be eliminated and that around 60 to 80 of those would be positions currently filled. These cuts are on top of internal restructuring that reduces supervisors of workers conducting program eligibility reviews.
“OPEA understands the difficult position that DHS was placed in due to 2016 appropriations not meeting needs and the agency’s top priority of implementing the Pinnacle Plan,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “What we don’t understand is how legislators and other state leaders can continue to ask state employees at all agencies to continue to provide vital services with fewer employees and resources. They need to come back into session and fix this problem. “
DHS says “64 percent of the cuts will be internal to DHS, 22 percent from contracts, 9 percent from Waiver Program provider rate cuts and about 5 percent front client services directly.” This breakdown shows the 2016 appropriation led DHS to balance the budget by reducing staff, an approach OPEA members believe is wrong and will impact service delivery.
In 2009, DHS reported that they had 7,864 employees and in 2014 they had 7,241. The previous employee reductions were also made at a time when the demand for DHS services increased. This year, the demand for services continues to be great but more staff cuts are planned.
“These cuts are a direct result of lack of funding by the legislature, “Zearley said. “It is time for lawmakers to look at potential revenue increases by eliminating tax credits and incentives that are not helping improve Oklahoma’s economy. Lawmakers must also look at revising how it appropriates state funds every year.”
“Other agencies will likely be required to take similar steps to balance their budgets,” Zearley said. “The services they provide will also be hurt.”
Once again, state employees are being asked to do more with less. Unfortunately, this is a trend among most state agencies. They are being asked to perform at the highest level possible despite inadequate pay, limited resources and a crumbling infrastructure. It is only because of the strong character and dedication of our state employee workforce that key services are still being provided to our fellow Oklahomans, yet these employees are marginalized and forgotten by state leaders when it comes time to support them.
To prevent this from happening, lawmakers should enter into a special legislative session to review the impact of budget cuts on core services and authorize addition funding to state agencies. Staff that perform core services should not be cut until all other options, including additional funding are exhausted.”