Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services met recently at the state Capitol to discuss how agencies are handling the current five percent budget cuts, and what steps may need to be taken if further cuts are mandated.
“We have laid out our cuts, and have put them in place across the board,” said Gene Christian, Director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs. “We have started furloughing administrative staff. At this time the furloughs do not apply to direct care employees, those who deal directly with our youth, but if additional cuts of seven, 10 or 12 percent, then those employees would also face furloughs.
“Furloughs began in October,” Christian said. “Those making more than two thousand dollars a month are required to take one furlough day per month. Employees making less than two thousand dollars are required to take one-half day per month.”
Representative Charles Ortega asked how private contractors have handled the cuts. “Will privateers stay with the state when times are good then drop services when faced with cuts?” Ortega asked. “I’m not seeing that,” Christian said. “In fact they are willing to work with the state even though we may be eventually looking at larger cuts.”
Christian said the OJA Board has been asked to consider a RFP to privately manage a new juvenile facility. During it’s meeting December 4th, the Board voted 4-3 in favor of granting the RFP.
A second meeting with OKDHS Director Howard Hendrick discussed how state employees are stepping up and picking up the slack in the face of agency cuts.
“Kudos to our staff,” Hendrick said. “They truly amaze me. We are seeing a record number of people using our services at the same time our agency is facing unprecedented cuts. I can’t say enough good things about how DHS employees are handling this.”
Hendrick presented a power-point demonstration, detailing how current and future cuts are affecting the citizens of Oklahoma.
“Adult protective services are a terrible candidate for cuts,” he said. “There are a number of elderly citizens in harms way if this program is cut. Many of our seniors need a helping hand; I cannot recommend cutting these services.
“Another program that cannot be cut is low-income energy assistance. We are seeing long lines across the state where Oklahomans are asking for help paying their utility bills.
In fact, there are a number of programs that will put our neighbors at risk if they face additional cuts. Rather than cutting services we need to grow them. Look at the graying of our state. We need to increase funding for aging services. One program now that is in desperate need of funds deals with adult day care. That allows adult children caring for an elderly parent to drop that parent off at a day care center and go on to work, thereby contributing to the state by working and earning a salary and paying taxes.
“Our staff continues to do an excellent job,” Hendrick said. “State employees rarely get the thanks they deserve, but they are doing an exceptional job.”