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ADvantage Waiver recipients worry after DHS sends elimination notices as state budget solution remains elusive

NORMAN, Okla. – Five days a week, for about two hours each day, Terresa Allen has some much-needed help in the form of Karen Daniels.

Allen, 50, is disabled. A bad back prevents her from completing some of the menial tasks – chores. But when you talk to Allen, Daniels’ help is absolutely necessary.

“Sweep, mop, it’s very hard. Even to vacuum. It’s sometimes impossible,” said Allen from inside her modest apartment in Norman.

“With her not here, it’d be — I’d be sitting here. I wouldn’t have no company. She does work, but she’s still company.”

Daniels also helps Allen bathe, shop and makes her meals. But that help could be gone next month if the Oklahoma legislature doesn’t find funds to prevent DHS from cutting the agency’s ADvantage Waiver program, and others.

Serving more than 20,000 people, according to DHS officials, the program helps disabled seniors and adults with simple tasks, keeping them in their homes.

On Wednesday, DHS began sending out notices to ADvantage and Adult In-Home Support Waiver recipients, notifying them that in light of the legislature’s inability to allocate funding because of the state’s budget shortfall, the programs could be cut starting next month.

DHS is legally required to send out notices, 30 days prior to services being stopped.

“We are still hopeful, still optimistic that the legislature will not allow these cuts to take place,” said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell. “There’s still time to pass funding bills, to make sure that the funding is available for these services. But come December 1, these programs will end and there will be nothing DHS can do about it.”

A legislative fix to the $215 million budget shortfall has been elusive in the special session now into its fifth week.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, urged the senate to quickly take up house-approved legislation for state mental health and healthcare services. This after the senate sent legislation to the governor, authorizing the use of $23.3 million in rainy day funds for mental health services.

“And the agencies are telling our citizens they`re going to cut their services to the most vulnerable,” said Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, during a debate on raising the state’s taxes on oil and gas wells Wednesday. “That`s terrorism. We should not be negotiating with terrorists, period.”
Gov. Mary Fallin rebuked Bennett’s comments Wednesday evening.

“It is unacceptable behavior for a lone legislator to call state agencies and their employees terrorists,” Fallin wrote in a Facebook post. “An apology should be given. I appreciate all of our state employees who serve our state every day. Both of my parents were dedicated state employees.”

Back at Allen’s apartment in Norman, miles away from the state capitol, Daniels – wearing nursing scrubs – swept and mopped Allen’s kitchen floor.

“They think we’re terrorists? Do I look like a terrorist?” asked Daniels, who’s worried about her own job if funding for the program doesn’t come through.

“Would a terrorist come in and clean somebody’s house? That’s for dadgum sure they wouldn’t clean, and mop and do laundry,” she said. “No, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”