Commission Defers Child Care Copay Increase; OPEA Commends Chairman DeVaughn

At the OKDHS Commission meeting held on July 26, 2011, the Commission voted to delay a change in child care eligibility rates and client co-pays until November 1, 2011. According to OKDHS Director Howard Hendrick, this delay was in response to questions raised as to whether the Commission can amend the co-pay schedule. Despite OKDHS counsel giving an opinion that the Commission has the ability to amend the copay schedule, Commissioner Steven Dow contended the change should go through the legislative rule-making process.

Also attending the Commission meeting were persons in the child care community who have concerns with the changes. Commissioner Dow requested that those present be able to voice their concerns. In response, Commission Chairman Richard DeVaughn allowed the group to elect a spokesperson to give remarks and allotted the spokesperson two minutes to present their concerns.

Chairman DeVaughn also reminded Commissioner Dow there are approximately 7,500 employees who would also have an opinion on this matter. The changes to child care eligibility and co-pays were among more than a hundred lines of budget and contract reductions including voluntary position reductions through attritions and a Voluntary Out Benefit Offer (VOBO). All of these budget reduction efforts alleviated the need for a potential furlough of all OKDHS employees.

“OPEA commends Chairman DeVaughn for his recognition of the hardship furloughs would cause for OKDHS employees,” stated OPEA Director Sterling Zearley. “These employees haven’t had a pay raise in six years and have been asked to take on additional duties as the agency has reduced the number of full-time employees each year in response to budget cuts.”

Through proposed changes to child care benefits recipients would see co-pay increases ranging from 48 cents per child per week to $13.60 per child per week with households of one child. The lowest family co-pays will increase from $6 to $8 per month. The highest family co-pays would see an increase of $60.00 per month. This will be the first co-pay increase in 14 years.

OKDHS estimates the postponement of the changes to child care co-pays and eligibility to cost about $1.9 million.

“The plan is to monitor the agency’s overall budget for areas where programs have under runs and apply any savings towards the cost,” said Director Hendrick. “If that is not successful, we will reevaluate our budget and other funding options later in the year. A furlough plan to make up this shortage would not be one of the options.”

“While we at OPEA understand all members of the community are feeling the economic impact of the recession, it is simply not fair to continue to ask OKDHS employees to take the brunt of the budget cuts,” concluded Zearley.

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