Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Top Receivers of State Appropriations, By Rep. John Bennett

My next few columns will focus on the 10 state agencies that receive the largest amount of taxpayer money. Human Services is No. 4 on that list behind K-12 education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and higher education. I’m going to talk about them first, however, because of the current dustup in the news over the Department of Human Services (DHS) funding and programs that are being cut.

First of all, DHS let it be known earlier this year – through the media – that they were planning to cut programs that help disabled adults and seniors on Medicaid stay in their homes with home health services instead of being moved to nursing homes. The Legislature gave the agency supplemental funding of $34 million in early April to save these programs.

In the final budget, DHS was appropriated almost $700 million. This included $7.7 million so the agency can secure federal matching funds and $11.3 million for the Pinnacle Plan, which is helping ensure the state’s Foster Care system is meeting civil rights standards for the children in its care. Without counting the supplemental appropriation, the agency received almost $20 million more dollars this year than last year. Many other state agencies, including higher education, took an average cut of 4.2 percent.

Yet, even with this increased funding, DHS has decided it still has to cut programs, like the one mentioned above, as well as childcare assistance, senior meal assistance and some foster care and adoptive services.

I want to make sure it is understood that DHS decided to cut these programs, not the Legislature.

This is a load of bull. The agency could afford these programs last year with less money. But, now suddenly they can’t pay for them? That makes me question what they’re doing over there. An agency spokeswoman said the department has had to cut 1,200 positions in the last two years. They can still function, she said, but just barely. Does that mean they could have functioned without these positions all along? Probably. I also have to believe that DHS has other areas it could cut before it takes funding from vulnerable adults and children.

The Legislature does not line item funding for state agencies. We trust they can make decisions to care for the neediest citizens and forego things that do not need to be handled by the government or at the very least can wait until the state is completely out of a recession. I coauthored a bill with the speaker of the House that will require agency budgets to be audited, however, before future funding is granted. DHS should be among the first agencies audited when this bill takes effect.

Government should not be the fix-all solution to every problem. It can’t employee everybody and run every program ever dreamed up. What it should do, though, is take care of the most vulnerable.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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