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Oklahoma Department Of Human Services Will Offer Buyouts To Save $68 Million

Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake.
Public Radio Tulsa
Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced Tuesday it plans to shorten contracts and offer voluntary buyouts to hundreds of employees.

The move comes as the agency tries to deal with roughly $68 million in budget reductions over the next year and a half.

DHS faces a roughly $40 million dollar budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. DHS will also lose about $19 million in state funds due to the 3 percent budget reductions asked for after Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger declared a revenue failure , plus an additional $9 million in federal matching dollars.

“The three percent reduction actually equaled a six percent cut in our budget because the reduction percentage is applied to the full-year budget,” DHS Director Ed Lake said in a statement. “It was paramount to us and to the people we serve that we protect core services and direct client payments wherever possible. I believe we have achieved that with reductions which will minimize impacts on client services and avoid a disruption of normal business operations.”

The agency says it will implement a hiring freeze for all positions except Child Welfare Specialists. DHS spokesperson Sheree Powell told The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis there are more than 10,500 children in state care, and they need to keep hiring child welfare specialists to meet their needs:

“We're not cutting any services to individuals,” Powell said. “The contracts we are reducing are for professional services to the agency like training, technical support and call centers. We are still fine tuning the actual list of contracts to be reduced but will be working with those individual contractors in the weeks ahead.” The agency also will scrutinize reserve accounts and accounts set aside for specific programs or contracts to identify budgeted funds not expected to be spent this year. Those funds will be reallocated to help cover the shortfall, officials said. “We tend to over-budget for things, just to be safe, and it's in those areas that we're reducing them down,” Powell said.

The voluntary buyout offer is being extended to all employees, and consists of four elements:

  •  A $5,000-10,000 payment, based on years of service
  • A payment worth 18 months of the employee health premium
  • The next longevity payment they would’ve received after leaving the agency
  • Payment of that employee’s accumulated vacation hours.

DHS says eligible employees who want to take the buyout and retire have until January 27 to submit their paperwork to the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, or OPERS. Their last day on duty will be March 15. Powell told Ellis she’s not sure if layoffs would be necessary if there aren’t enough workers who take the deal:

DHS has cut its workforce over the last couple of years, while simultaneously adding child welfare employees to care for abused and neglected children in state custody and meet the requirements of a settlement agreement to a class-action lawsuit over the alleged mistreatment of children in state care. The agency had 7,188 full-time equivalent employees as of Jan. 1, which was 381 fewer than the 7,569 it had just two years earlier. Some of those positions were eliminated when DHS closed two residential centers for people with developmental disabilities — one in Pauls Valley and the other in Enid. There were other DHS jobs eliminated through the closure of the Pauline E. Mayer children's shelter in Oklahoma City and through previous buyout offers and restructuring.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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