- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services warned stakeholders Friday of catastrophic cuts to programs and services for vulnerable residents, the possible closures of county offices and more employee layoffs amid the state’s budget crisis.

In a letter sent Friday to employees and contractors, DHS Director Ed Lake says the agency already is grappling with an estimated $150 million hole in its upcoming budget from a combination of anticipated state cuts, increased costs and dwindling federal funds.

The estimated shortfall comes on the heels of $168 million in revenue reductions or increased costs the agency has had to absorb this fiscal year, which Lake detailed in the letter.

“These cuts have virtually eliminated any funds we normally hold for emergencies and most of the carryover funds that would have been available to maintain expenditure levels in the coming fiscal year,” Lake said Friday in a statement.

Lake said the agency is considering fee hikes to support its oversight, licensing and enforcement programs, along with cuts to programs that support the elderly and disabled. He added that many contracts with outside vendors will be reduced or eliminated entirely.

The agency also is planning hundreds of additional employee layoffs on top of the roughly 1,200 non-child-welfare positions it cut in the last two years.

The agency does not anticipate several of the state’s federally funded assistance programs - such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - to be affected, provided the agency can adequately staff them.

A proposal from Republican Gov. Mary Fallin calls for an 8.6 percent increase in funding for the agency, but the Legislature would have to increase revenues and approve a $500 million bond measure for road projects, freeing up money for other state functions.

Lawmakers have criticized the governor’s plan. Some Republicans, including Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, have openly opposed the bond proposal. Democrats including House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman of Oklahoma City want a proposal that includes the repeal of a 0.25 percent income tax reduction that went into effect Jan. 1.

Even if the Legislature were to approve Fallin’s plan or a similar one, Lake says the proposed budget would still fall short of allowing the agency to continue in its current form. But a similar proposal could stave off deeper cuts to core services, he said.

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