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Politics and Government

Oklahoma Department Of Human Services To Cut 200 Positions

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

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced Tuesday it will cut 200 positions while adding 300 child welfare workers.

In an email sent to employees obtained by KGOU, DHS Director Ed Lake said the agency needs more child welfare specialists.

“I know that seems counterintuitive, but as an integral part of our efforts to address the high number of children currently in our custody and continue our progress to reduce workload levels as required by the Pinnacle Plan, we need more child welfare specialist and we need them now,” Lake wrote. 

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell estimated that 50 to 60 of the 200 positions are currently filled by employees whose jobs are being eliminated.

“In an agency like ours, excluding direct assistance payments to clients, personnel costs represent the largest administrative expense in our budget – 64 percent of the total – so that so that is an area we must look to for reductions of significance,” Lake wrote. “Identifying positions to cut is an especially difficult decision-making process because so much of what we accomplish is carried out directly by our employees.”

For employees at risk of losing their jobs, the agency is offering a voluntary severance package that includes longevity and service payments. If not enough people accept the buyout offer, a reduction in force might be implemented.

“Altogether the reductions we are making will both balance our budget and account for the legislature's reduced appropriated funding for state fiscal year 2016,” Lake wrote. “Measured in total dollars' impact (federal + state), 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 will affect client services directly.”

The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis reports Lake also announced a 3.5 percent reduction in provider reimbursement rates under the Advantage Waiver program. It pays for services that allow elderly individuals to continue living in their own homes if they can no longer live independently.

There will be a similar 3.5 percent cut to providers of home and community-based services for individuals who are developmentally disabled, which includes payments to providers caring for individuals with severe developmental disabilities recently relocated from state facilities in Pauls Valley and Enid under a plan to close both facilities. Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma, an elderly advocacy organization, was appalled by the announced cuts. "How sad is that," Brinkley said. "They are going to cut programs for the developmentally disabled and other programs for the frail and elderly. Who are we as a state if we are not going to take care of the most frail among us? ... That is a population that desperately needs those programs."

Lake said DHS saw its appropriation cut by $11.8 million under the $7.1 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“We also have had to identify an additional $33.4 million in reductions for next year because of a shortfall in our current operating budget,” Lake wrote. “That shortfall was due to multi-year cost increases for foster care, adoptions and the state's required share of the Medicaid match rate, and for new child welfare positions. We have requested additional appropriations the last two years for all but the latter item.”

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