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State health department employees to be furloughed amid budget crunch

OKLAHOMA CITY – While lawmakers are working in a special session to fill a $215 million budget hole, leaders at one Oklahoma agency say they are being forced to cut their budget.

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is working to reduce agency spending due to a shortfall of more than $10 million.

Officials say the shortfall is due to a loss of federal funds, increased costs and reduction in state appropriation.

“Since federal funds are nearly 60% of the OSDH budget, reductions in federal funds at the same time we are experiencing state budget shortfalls make for a perfect storm,”  said Julie Cox-Kain, OSDH Senior Deputy Commissioner.

This fiscal year, Cox-Kain says that its state funds only dropped 2.8 percent. However, the cumulative reduction in state funds since 2009 is about 29.24 percent, she said.

Now, agency officials say they are forced to take drastic measures to help with the budget deficit.

Beginning with the Oct. 30 pay period, officials say Oklahoma State Department of Health employees will be furloughed one day without pay during the two-week cycle.

No one making $35,000 per year or less will be affected, but all other personnel will be subject to the furlough.

Also, a voluntary out benefit offer is being prepared to reduce staffing levels statewide, but the plan has not been finalized yet.