DHS cuts are just a political stunt

State Rep. and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders admonished Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) administrators for cutting programs serving vulnerable children and adults.

DHS last week announced it would cut almost $30 million from programs that serve senior meals, help keep disabled adults in their homes instead of nursing homes, and serve the state’s foster care and adopted children.

This came in a year when the department received an 8.2 percent increase in state appropriations, including $7.7 million in federal matching funds, as well as $34 million in supplemental funding for fiscal year 2017.

Overall, DHS received $699.9 million for fiscal year 2018, almost $53 million more than in fiscal year 2017.Many other agencies took a 4.2 percent cut this year.

Sanders said while DHS has announced it has cut 1,200 positions statewide over the past two years, it is unclear from this latest release whether any positions were eliminated before the aforementioned programs were cut. DHS has said it will close several offices around the state in fiscal year 2018, but existing workers will work remotely.

“To cut programs to the most vulnerable instead of taking administrative cuts or cutting programs that would have far less impact on Oklahomans – such as the 211 service hotline, for instance – seems nothing more than a political stunt. Director Ed Lake knows well that by cutting these programs for children and vulnerable adults and seniors he can bring publicity and the most calls to lawmakers,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher.

“Yet, the Legislature did not make these cuts. We do not line item agency spending. Instead we trust our agency heads to be able to make the best decisions about what programs should be spared during tough budget times. These are the times when you forego the wish-list items but you still provide for the most vulnerable. Yet, those decisions would not bring public outcry and put political pressure on lawmakers to continue to increase funding without further accountability for how taxpayer dollars are spent.”

“I’m asking for Oklahomans to turn their outrage toward the appropriate party in this matter – DHS – and demand they do the right thing and provide meals for our seniors, in-home services for our disabled adults and appropriate funding for foster care and adopted children. I also call on the agency to stop playing political football with vulnerable state residents and taxpayer dollars.”

After Oklahoma Department of Humans Services (DHS) Executive Director Ed Lake announced earlier this week the agency will cut $30 million from agency programs that support foster children and elderly meals, House Speaker Charles McCall said the announcement is one reason his bill to audit agency budgets every four years is so important for taxpayers.

Speaker McCall authored House Bill 2311 this session, which would require the Legislative Services Bureau (LSB) to audit or contract with a third-party auditor to audit agency budgets every four years. The bill was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin and becomes effective on October 1, 2017.

McCall said the agency owes taxpayers an explanation for why it could afford the programs last year but cannot this year after receiving a large increase in funding.

“Frankly, I am perplexed as to why an agency that could afford these programs last year would claim it can no longer afford them this year after receiving a $53 million increase from taxpayers,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “This is an agency that received $700 million in taxpayer dollars last session. We worked diligently during the legislative session to meet the needs of the agency as Director Lake requested, so this announcement to cut programs is surprising to say the least.”

McCall said every state agency owes citizens an explanation for the ways they spend taxpayer dollars.

“The burden must be on the agencies to justify their programs and spending so we can ensure that those dollars are used first and foremost for the agency’s core missions. DHS is an important agency that does a lot of good for the citizens of Oklahoma, but we should never be complacent, and our priority as public servants should always be to try to find ways to make government more cost effective and efficient, and to ensure the tax dollars entrusted to us by the people of Oklahoma are used wisely.”

As one of the largest state appropriated agencies, McCall said he believes the Department of Human Services should be among the first agencies to be audited by the LSB in 2018 to ensure DHS is making the best use of the money entrusted to it by the people of Oklahoma.