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DHS seeking $48M budget increase to meet rising costs, raise provider rates

OKLAHOMA CITY – After years of budget cuts and stagnate provider rates, the state’s human services agency is seeking a $48 million budget increase for the next budget year.

Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake addressed state senators during an appropriations hearing Monday afternoon at the state capitol, detailing the agency’s current financial standing, what it’s done to weather budget shortfalls and what it’s asking from legislators for the coming budget process.

“When it comes to continuing to make cuts, you can see where our limitations are,” Lake said, referring to $600 million in agency expenditures for child welfare and waiver programs for the FY18 budget.

Lake said, if the agency can’t get funding in line with the services it and its contractors provide to foster children, adoption services and waiver programs for the elderly and disabled, the state could see a dangerous ripple effect among the businesses that provide those services.

“What does DHS plan to ensure we have a quality workforce and enough people in the workforce to take care of people in both those entities?” said Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, during the senate appropriations committee hearing.

“Across the board, in DHS, whether we’re talking about child care, foster care, aging, developmental disabilities, child welfare, we are suffering from our inability to provide rates that allow these businesses to hire quality people and retain quality people,” Lake said.

Which is why the agency is asking for a $48.8 million appropriations increase for FY 2019. The majority of that, roughly $35.8 million, would go towards waiver programs and provider rate increases for adoptions and foster care. Lake said the agency has seen a 14 percent increase in adoptions over the last year.

“Right now, our greatest need is something to help us with the rates that we pay providers, so they can meet the requirements we have of the contracts so they can treat children and adults effectively,” Lake said after the hearing. “It’s been so long that providers have not had rate increases that it’s really affecting their businesses, and I think, as a state, we have to look seriously at that.”

DHS received at $699.9 million budget appropriation last year; the agency’s request would put the state appropriations at more than $748 million.

“I think they’re more than reasonable,” said Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, of the agency’s request. “They’ve been doing yeoman’s work with what we’ve been able to provide them through appropriation. I don’t know how they’ve been able to make the progress they’ve made, based on how we’ve — we’ve given them no budget increase, and they need more money to do the job that we’ve charged them to do.”

Editors note: The original version of this story has been updated to reflect updated financial data from the agency. The DHS funding increase request is $48.8 million, not $64 million, as was previously reported.