By Rep. RICK WEST
Last week, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, or DHS, announced the agency would be cutting programs that impact countless Oklahoma families. To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement.
Agency director Ed Lake says there just isn’t enough money. But the truth is that the Legislature actually gave the agency an 8.2 percent increase in funds over last year’s appropriations. That amounts to another $53 million. In addition, the agency also received a $7 million matching fund from the federal government. To me, cutting programs after receiving more money than the previous year signals a problem. Instead of finding ways to trim the fat, DHS has announced it will cut services to Oklahomans who need them most.
Lawmakers gave DHS an 8.2 percent increase while other agencies were cut 4 percent. The Legislature fully intended to ensure senior meal programs and similar services were fully funded, and we gave DHS enough money to do so. We could not line-item their budget, but seeing Director Ed Lake announce he’d be significantly cutting these programs is a slap in the face to agencies who endured a cut on DHS’s behalf.
I simply cannot understand how programs could be afforded last year with less money. It seems to me that if you receive a larger appropriation, the last thing you should do is scale back programs that serve our state’s vulnerable populations. And if you must cut programs, choose ones that have less of a direct impact on the citizens you are charged with helping. I am almost certain DHS has chosen to play politics at the expense of Oklahomans, and I am appalled to think of the effects these cuts will have on folks in LeFlore County.
The Legislature enables agencies to spend their appropriated dollars however they feel is appropriate. But when we see these types of decisions by DHS, it is frustrating and confusing.
It’s no secret that Oklahoma’s fiscal climate is a tough one right now. But when lawmakers decide to give a significant increase in funds to one agency, to the detriment of others, we expect that agency to provide the services people depend on. Sadly, I guess that is not always the case. The decision of the DHS director to slash programs by $30 million is unacceptable, and it should have been avoided.
Thankfully, the Legislature passed a bill this session requiring the Legislative Services Bureau to audit or hire an auditor to audit agency budgets every four years. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill, and it will take effect on Oct. 1. I hope the first agency on the list is the Department of Human Services.
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