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Oklahoma’s Social Service Hotline Falls Victim To Department Of Human Services Funding Cuts

Call specialists answer HeartLine Inc.’s various helplines inside the organization’s call center in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
Call specialists answer HeartLine Inc.’s various helplines inside the organization’s call center in Oklahoma City.";s:

Two Oklahoma non-profits are struggling to determine how to maintain the state’s social services hotline due to budget shortfalls.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services cut all of the fund for the state's 211 call-in system.

Jim Lyall manages the hotline for Tulsa’s Community Service Council. He was told by DHS officials to prepare for about a 20 percent cut compared to last year’s funding. He said he was shocked when he learned Monday the agency cut all $300,000 he was expecting for the program, The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports:

“It is devastating to our programming,” Lyall said. “Why would the state put that in jeopardy? Why isn’t there better communication and planning?” The agency announced $45 million in budget cuts on Aug. 3, due to a $100 million shortfall in DHS’ budget. Spokesman Mark Beutler said three-quarters of the agency’s budget is dedicated to child welfare, Medicaid and people with disabilities. DHS officials didn’t have a choice but to cut money for programs like the 211 service. “It goes against the very core of what we do at DHS to help our fellow Oklahomans,” he said. “But when the safety net runs out of money, what do we do?”

DHS also cut about $336,000 to Oklahoma City-based Heartline Incorporated. Spokeswoman Emilie McClanahan said Heartline staff may have to reduce the 211 service hours.

McClanahan said her organization’s staff expects more people to call, which typically happens in an economic downturn. The hotline operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and the staff is re-evaluating how many hours the organization can maintain the service, she said. HeartLine is searching for grants or temporary funding for the program.

Now, both organizations operate the hotline 24 hours a day. DHS spokesman Mark Beutler said the agency faces a $100 million shortfall, and cutting money for the 211 service was a difficult choice.

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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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