The teacher walkout may be over, but the fight for better funding has just begun for many state employees.
Department of Human Services employees said they are optimistic about the future and hope the walkout continues to open doors for state employees.
Becky Laipple has been working for DHS almost a decade. Her job is to make sure the money the Advantage Program gets goes where it is supposed to and is being used responsibly.
The Advantage Program gives over 1,700 disabled and elderly Oklahomans the services they need to stay in their homes and not have to go to a nursing home.
"When we almost lost the program in November it was devastating. And I didn't want to see our members go through that," she said. "We all feel very strongly about what we do here."
Laipple said over the years, state workers have had to learn how to do more work with fewer employees and resources.
"We have lost probably half of our staff with all of the budget cuts," she said.
The walkout helped state employees get a raise, but Laipple hopes a dialogue continues at the state Capitol on how to improve funding for state agencies in the future.
"It seems like Advantage is always on the chopping block with the Legislature, and I think a lot of it is due to the fact that they just don't understand the program," Laipple said. "We welcome legislators to come and visit our office, we have had them in our office before."
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association released a statement saying:
“State employee services may not be easily visible like our public schools are, but make no mistake, if the services provided by state agencies went away, our state would be devastated. There is not one segment of life in Oklahoma that is not directly impacted by state employee services. Just this past week, state employees from several agencies helped fight grass fires and state employees will be instrumental in the recovery. State law enforcement officials were also key in potentially solving a horrific crime that occurred nearly two decades ago. Others continue to perform their duties behind the scenes in all agencies to keep our state functioning.
“Our leaders must not forget the services provided daily by state agencies that help protect our citizens, keep us healthy and support our business and agriculture infrastructure. State employees are proud to serve their communities but Oklahoma must take steps to improve their pay. Lawmakers passed a small pay raise this year but state employee pay is still too low compared to the private sector. If we’re going to hire and keep the best and brightest, we’ve got to pay them more. State employees will continue to fight for improved pay throughout the remainder of the session and then will work to elect lawmakers who will invest in state agencies and state employees.”
There is a Veto Referendum on the table right now. If it's passed, it would roll back all the tax increases the Legislature has already passed, and that would include pay raises for state employees.