- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Human plans to cut $45 million from its budget and will ask state lawmakers for supplemental funding early next year to make sure there are no serious consequences for the thousands of vulnerable residents it serves, the agency director said Wednesday.

DHS Director Ed Lake said the agency, which administers the state’s foster care program and provides services to vulnerable children, the elderly and persons with developmental disabilities, faces a budget shortfall of more than $100 million due to a statewide budget crisis caused in part by declining revenue from oil and natural gas production.

“It is fiscally impossible to reduce $100 million out of our budget without putting thousands of vulnerable Oklahomans at risk,” Lake said in a statement.

Lake said that by next spring, a cut of just $45 million could prevent the agency from making payroll or paying contractors that provide care to thousands without additional funding to finish out the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Michael McNutt, communications director for Gov. Mary Fallin, did not immediately return a telephone call and email seeking comment.

With the loss of matching federal funds, DHS stands to lose a total of $72.8 million. Lake said 66 percent of the $45 million in cuts will come from the elimination of 91 jobs, bringing the total number of jobs lost since the start of the 2015-2016 fiscal year to more than 900.

Counting the past two fiscal years, DHS has reduced more than 1,200 non-child welfare positions, approximately one quarter of its workforce outside Child Welfare Services. Currently, the agency employs almost 6,900 workers across the state, more than 40 percent of whom work in Child Welfare Services.

“Our employees have endured so much stress through these continued workforce reductions and yet somehow they maintain their commitment and compassion for their friends and neighbors in communities all around the state who need our help,” Lake said.

Another 30 percent of the budget reductions will come from client services and benefits and 4 percent from contracts, according to the agency. DHS is reducing contracts with outside vendors and some contracted services are being phased out or eliminated altogether, the agency said.

The budget cut is in addition to $35 million in cuts to the agency’s initial 2016 budget and as well as $44 million in the previous fiscal year. Lake said final budget decisions will not be made until a decision is made on whether any of those funds will be returned.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services said last week that the mid-year budget cuts Oklahoma agencies had to make were deeper than required and that $140.8 million was available for reallocation.

Fallin has said the funds could be returned to state agencies or used to help fund a teacher pay raise, and also said she supports a special legislative session to address public education.

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