- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma state agency charged with overseeing care for abused children, the elderly and disabled could be forced to furlough workers or slash provider rates if it doesn’t receive an infusion of more than $42 million before the current fiscal year ends in June, the agency’s director told legislators on Monday.

Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake told members of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee his agency needs about $34 million to fund programs for the elderly and developmentally disabled. It also needs additional funding to cover a shortfall in adoption subsidy payments and a court-monitored plan for caring for abused and neglected children in DHS custody.

Lake said that in order to maintain services to vulnerable Oklahomans, he would have to look at furloughing agency workers or imposing additional cuts to provider reimbursement rates.

“We would do everything we could so that people currently receiving a service wouldn’t be kicked off a program,” Lake said. “We’ve run out of all the tricks. You can’t do those things twice. So the next thing we’re talking about are services that are going to affect people.”

The agency’s current fiscal year budget is about $678 million, but Lake said lawmakers knew when they approved the budget last year that it wouldn’t be enough to get the agency through the entire fiscal year.

“That’s basically a ten-month budget,” Lake said. “It was well known what our situation is going to be, and it’s unfortunately come home to roost.”

Rep. Pat Ownbey, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the agency’s budget, said the ongoing budget crunch will make it difficult to come up with the entire $42 million.

“Whether or not we can do the entire amount of the supplement is questionable, but I do believe we’re going to have to do some of it,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore.

Over the last two fiscal years, the agency has reduced about 1,200 non-child welfare positions and shuttered two residential centers for people with severe developmental disabilities. It added hundreds of new child welfare specialists to help the agency comply with a court-ordered plan for improving services for abused and neglected children.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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