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New vocational rehab applicants will be denied services for now


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ New applicants for vocational rehabilitation services will be turned away because of budget cuts and possible future reductions.

The Department of Rehabilitative Services has lost $2.3 million. When the agency lost $794,000 from the state, federal matching dollars declined $1.5 million.

``It is very difficult to take across-the-board cuts in this manner because they tend to penalize efficiency and reward inefficiency,'' said John E. Orr, chairman of the Commission of Rehabilitation Services, which oversees the department.

``While some agencies' budgets have doubled or tripled in recent years, DRS has received absolutely no new dollars for programs and services since we became an independent agency in 1993.''

The Department of Rehabilitative Services has cut 57 positions from the divisions of vocational rehabilitation and visual services and, since July. Services to new applicants with less severe disabilities have been delayed.

The agency is bound by federal law to provide services at the same level for clients whose rehabilitation plans are dated Dec. 23 or before. The agency can't cap or limit services for those already being helped.

State law bars spending more than the agency's budget allocation.

The agency will still process new applications and gather diagnostic information, said DRS director Linda Parker.

When money becomes available, those on the waiting list with the most significant disabilities will be served first based on their application date.

Parker estimated that by July 1 _ the beginning of the new fiscal year _ the agency will have delayed services to about 5,700 applicants.
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