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Oklahoma Budget Cuts Hit Vulnerable Residents

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The state Medicaid program is likely to lose $100 million from its budget, and the state Health Department is cutting personnel. The state Medicaid program is likely to lose $100 million from its budget, and the state Health Department is cutting personnel.

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- State agencies in Oklahoma are cutting another 5 percent from their budgets, and in many cases the reductions affect some of the state's most vulnerable people.
The state Medicaid program is likely to lose $100 million from its budget, and the state Health Department is cutting personnel.

At the start of the fiscal year on July 1, most state agencies had to cut their budgets by 7 percent. In each of the past three months, the state has cut another 5 percent from agency budgets, which amounts to slashing the budget by nearly 30 percent from last fiscal year.

10/13/2009 Related story: 5 Percent Budget Cut Remains As State Revenue Declines

The cuts became necessary as revenue from taxes declined due to the recession.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state's Medicare programs, said the further reductions means a loss of $26.4 million for the fiscal year. State money used for Medicaid generates a 3-to-1 match from the federal government, which means about $75 million will be lost in federal money, too.

"Up until now, we've absorbed it, but we can't absorb it anymore," Health Care Authority spokeswoman Jo Kilgore said.

The Health Care Authority can't make across-the-board cuts. The agency accepted more than $300 million in federal stimulus money on the condition that the state won't reduce benefits or eligibility for basic programs.

That could mean reducing the number of prescriptions that the state's Medicare program covers or reducing or eliminating adult rehabilitation treatments for up to 9,000 Oklahoma residents.

State Department of Health programs affected by the cuts include Children First and the Office of Child Abuse Prevention.

Children First, which provides in-home nurse visits for low-income women with first-time pregnancies, will lose two nurses in both Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Cuts to the Office of Child Abuse Prevention are expected to eliminate services for about 180 families.

At the Health Department, Toni Frioux, assistant deputy commissioner for Community Health Services, said less money means fewer workers.

"Seventy-eight percent of our budget is personnel," Frioux said, "so as we have been experiencing these declines in revenue, we've reduced our personnel a lot."

Oklahoma Treasurer Scott Meacham said the reductions are likely to remain in effect for the rest of the budget year, which ends June 30.

The cuts don't affect self-funded agencies and don't apply to dedicated revenues such as the state fuel tax. Thus, some agencies are hit harder than others.

The state Department of Correction depends heavily on general revenue and has had to adjust its budget but cutting payments to private prisons holding state prisoners. Corrections Department Director Justin Jones said employee furloughs may be necessary next year.

The Commission for Human Services is reducing what it sends to local agencies. In Tulsa, a program to provide home-delivered meals is being cut by 50 percent, Executive Director Clark Miller said. That will affect 1,100 housebound elderly people and will cut nearly 100,000 meals.



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