Oklahoma Department of Human Services bracing for budget cuts
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials are bracing for expected budget cuts by looking at reducing staffing levels and changing the eligibility for child care subsidies, according to a commission meeting report Tuesday.
Director Howard Hendrick said the agency is anticipating about a $39 million shortfall, based on the current state budget negotiations.
“The Legislature has not landed on a budget yet,” Howard said. “We do have some general guidance. We can talk in general about what it means and get input on this project, which is still under construction.”
Much of the $2.2 billion DHS budget cannot be cut by federal law or reductions would “create extreme economic risk,” Hendrick said.
These areas include the federal mandated state base for Medicaid-funded programs such as Aging, Blind and Disabled program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Older Americans program and the Child Care Development Block Grant.
In addition, Hendrick said he does not want to reduce rates for ADvantage Waiver, Developmentally Disabled, Foster Care and Adoption subsidies and child care subsidies.
However, by possibility changing the eligibility for child-care subsidies, fewer people would be able to qualify.
The subsidy helps low-income families afford child care, and parents must be working or going to school.
About 39,000 children a month are on the program, and the program serves about 70,000 children a year, Hendrick said.
“All the people currently on we want to stay participating,” Hendrick said. “But if they drop out, they would have to meet the more challenging eligibility standards.”
Hendrick said no analysis has been provided on what those changes would be.
Also, staffing levels would be reduced through attrition and personnel adjusted in field offices based on program usage, he said.
For example, an office with a heavy use of Adult Protective Services staff due to an older community population may have fewer staff for other programs, he said.
“We want to do all of this through attrition,” Hendrick said. “Whether that is realistic at the end of the day, we don’t know.”
After the budget is set by the Legislature and staffing levels are assessed, if there is still a shortfall, employees may be furloughed or offered voluntary buyouts, he said.
The shortfall comes from the expiration of one-time federal stimulus funds and rate increases in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, which is the share of state Medicaid benefits costs paid by the federal government.
“We are at a place where we have no more one-time dollars to keep deferring reductions,” Hendrick said. “We did the right thing by deferring reductions because we got through the deepest part of the recession. If we would have been forced into reductions earlier, then the economic conditions of our state would be much more serious.”
Officials will spend the next four to five weeks analyzing the staffing and child-care subsidy eligibility and collecting input from stakeholders.
The final budget will be presented to the DHS commission in June.