August 5, 2016—The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) is facing a $45 million budget reduction in FY 2017, which will mean changes to how LIHEAP is operated in the state.
This recently-announced reduction comes on the heels of DHS cutting its staff by 900 employees earlier this year because of a $79 million cut to DHS’ initial 2016 budget. The additional $45 million in FY 2017 is to help address a projected $100 million shortfall in the department’s budget. DHS plans to reduce:
- Personnel and administration by 66 percent (eliminating 91 positions)
- Client services and benefits by 30 percent
- Contracts with other organizations by four percent
The reduction in DHS staff members at county offices across the state means all LIHEAP applications during the upcoming fiscal year will be submitted online. Oklahoma residents will no longer be able to go to their local county DHS office to apply. DHS only recently announced the launch of online LIHEAP applications through its www.okdhslive.org website, where low-income households may apply for a variety of programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid.
There are worries that any further cuts will put vulnerable residents at risk. Because of the $45 million cut in state funding, DHS actually loses closer to $72.8 million as a result of the loss of matching federal funding. DHS Director Ed Lake told the Oklahoma legislature that DHS could not make up for the entire $100 million shortfall in its budget without putting “thousands of vulnerable Oklahomans at risk.” Lake fears that DHS will not make it through next year without some sort of outside help and that more staffing cuts will have to be made.
According to news reports, Governor Mary Fallin is considering holding a special legislative session to discuss returning some of the previous year’s surplus funds to DHS and other agencies. These funds had been set aside to fund a raise in teachers’ salaries.
Sources: Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Media Sources