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“What’s going to happen?” Families concerned over short-term funding amid budget talks

OKLAHOMA CITY - Agencies are continuing to talk about their funding plans amid ongoing budget talks at the capitol.

On Friday, Governor Mary Fallin vetoed all but five of the 170 sections in a budget bill passed by the House and Senate. House Bill 1019X would have used millions in rainy day funds, carryover cash and revolving money while cutting about $60 million from state agencies.

Fallin's action will do away with the $60 million hit to state agencies and the use of revolving funds, but we're told it would provide short-term funding for three healthcare agencies: the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Human Services, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. They were expected to lose between $4-$15 million.

"Those agencies, which is the Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse (ODMHSAS), the Department of Health and Human Services and the Healthcare Authority, they were facing cuts unless we passed something this session will now have the ability to keep going for several more months," Fallin said in a video posted to Facebook.

We spoke with Doris Erhart, the mother of 19-year-old Aaron Erhart who participates in the In Home Support Waiver (IHSW) program through DHS. She questions what will happen in the long-run with the programs, beyond the next fiscal year. The waivers allow individuals and families to select services necessary to remain in his or her own home or family home.

"What’s Aaron going to do? How are we going to plan for his future? Because, the planning for his future has always included him having these services to help him," Doris said. "My husband and I at some point… I mean, 20 years from now, we may not be here. So, what’s the plan for Aaron?"

For parents of people living with disabilities, Doris said short-term solutions don't work. She said there is a constant uncertainty.

"How are we going to fund these services? Are they going to cut our services off? Are they going to cut it in half? It’s just a constant, and families are living in that fear constantly," Doris said.

In a statement sent to News 4, Jeffrey Dismukes of ODMHSAS Communications said they have not yet formed a final plan; however, the agency has absorbed funding cuts in three out of the last four years. According to Dismukes, it has seen its baseline appropriations reduced, which impacts the availability of core services for Oklahomans in need.

"Oklahoma cannot afford to continue cutting these lifesaving services without experiencing devastating consequences. Look at the headlines. People are dying. We are spending significantly more as a state to address the negative consequences of inaction than what we would spend to provide prevention and treatment services in the first place. In the end, all of us want a healthier Oklahoma, now and in the future," Dismukes said.

Jo Stainsby, director of Government Relations for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, told News 4 on Monday their finance staff is still analyzing the impacts of the veto and were not ready to release any figures at this time. Stainsby said, until they have a better understanding of the budget, they cannot speculate on any reductions or cuts.