DHS Sets Budget at Commission Meeting

The proposed OKDHS budget was at the forefront of discussion at the OKDHS Commission meeting held June 14, 2011.

“I think everyone agrees there were no easy decisions for those who determined where the cuts would take place, but we at OPEA are very grateful that our OKDHS members will not see furloughs according to the plan,” stated OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.

Zearley does not stand alone in recognizing the difficulty in making budget decisions this year. In his report from the budget committee Rev. George E. Young Sr. also stated he had much anguish and anxiety when determining this year’s budget. After much calculating the budget which was adopted were able to avoid cuts to senior nutrition, rates to DDSD providers, rates to Advantage waiver providers, rates to child care providers, foster care rates adoption subsidy rates, social services contracts that primarily do child welfare services as well as cuts which would have resulted in furloughs to OKDHS employees.

In order to avoid these cuts there had to be decisions to reduce other areas of the agency. One of the most discussed areas of reductions were those that affect child care including changes in co-pays as well as eligibility standards for future applicants. The lowest family co-pays will increase from $6.00 per month to $8.00 per month and the highest family co-pays for families with households under five and four or more children receiving care will increase from $439.00 per month to $492.00 per month. For those families with one child the highest family co-pay will increase from $189.00 to $246.00. According to OKDHS Director Hendrick this increase in co-pays will amount to a savings of approximately $5.8 million. He also pointed out this is the first co-pay increase in fourteen years, while rates have been increased six times in the last eleven years based on market surveys.

The agency also expects to save approximately $2.5 million from a reduction in eligibility for future applicants. In regards to these changes Director Hendrick stated income levels that remain eligible in Oklahoma would not be eligible in most other states because we have relatively high maximum eligibility levels. While no one currently receiving child care benefits will lose their eligibility, the following income standards will be affected:

Future family applicants with one child and annual income exceeding $25,500 will not be eligible; presently the limit is $29,100. Future family applicants with two children and annual income exceeding $29,100 will not be eligible; presently the limit is $35,100. Future family applicants with three or more children and annual income exceeding $35,100 will no longer be eligible; presently the limit is $43,500.

Other reductions made within the agency include contract reductions for various social services, contract reductions for some computer services, contract reductions for some training and voluntary reductions of jobs throughout the agency and state. The agency has already offered voluntary buy-outs (VOBOs) which will be concluded as of June 30, 2011 and has indicated they plan to announce another VOBO for employees eligible to retire September 30, 2011 soon. OPEA staff has been in discussion with OKDHS Director of Field Operations and will have more information on the areas which will be most impacted by these reductions around the beginning of July. If you have any other questions regarding the OKDHS budget, please contact OPEA Membership Director Haley Blood at haleyb@opea.org.

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