News 4 has been reporting on this important issue for months.
The waiting list for these services has grown to 13 years long.
That means, Oklahomans who first applied for a Medicaid waiver in 2009 are still waiting.
This week, the state legislature has unveiled their plan to use taxpayer dollars to eliminate the waiting list and fund services for every eligible Oklahoman on the list as of May 1, 2022.
As of this month, 5,134 Oklahoma families are waiting.
“Today it feels like a huge victory,” said DHS Chief of Staff, Samantha Galloway. “But I don’t feel like it’s a victory for DHS. I think it’s a victory for 5,146 families who have been waiting for a really long time for services. It’s a victory for them.”
The Department of Human Services (DHS) has been trying to cut down on the waiting list for years.
But the most funding the agency has ever requested from the legislative budget process is an additional $2 million a year.
This year, they asked for $21.3 million.
The legislature is poised to appropriate the entire $21.3 million, plus an additional $11 million to increase pay for care staff workers.
The state budget includes $32 million in state appropiration to eliminate the waiting list.
DHS has pledged an additional $19 million in cash, from operational efficiencies.
That’s $51.6 million in state funding.
A state contribution of federal funding draws another $122 million in for a total investment of $174 million.
“This is a great day for people with developmental disabilities and for their families and for all the professionals who have spent their careers working with people with developmental disabilities,” Galloway said.
The budget bill has widespread support from lawmakers the House and Senate.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” said Sapulpa Representative Mark Lawson. “This isn’t a rural issue or an urban issue. We all have constituents with these disabilities who have been waiting. It’s just an important issue for all of us.”
The measure also increases the rate to direct care staff workers by 25 percent.
“We did something to try to get provider rates increase, so we can have providers,” said Senator Paul Rosino of Moore. “We can’t get rid of the list if we don’t have providers. So, they are looking at that and trying to find ways to fund them also.”
Stable providers are a lifeline for Oklahomans like Wanda Felty, whose daughter was on the waiting list for years.
She was moved off the list two decades ago, but has recently had trouble getting services for her daughter because of a labor shortage, exacerbated by low pay.
“This is incredible,” Felty said. “The opportunity to provide extra pay for the direct care staff that come into the home, and I’m going to tell you, I have seen that underpaid staff saved my daughter’s life.”
DHS has been working on a fix for this waiting list for years.
In one session, state leaders will wipe it out.
“I want all those families who’s lost a loved one while they were waiting to know that their death was not in vain,” Felty said. “Today is an honor.”
All eligible Oklahomans on the waiting list as of May 1st should be receiving services is 18 to 24 months.
The DHS will continue to work the waiting list as they have in the past, verifying eligibility in groups of 500.
The federal dollars should start coming in by the end of the year.