DHS Budget Cuts Could Prove Costly To Oklahoma Parents, Children

Wednesday, June 15th 2011, 9:09 pm
By: News On 6

Lacie Lowry, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma – Oklahoma's Department of Human Services has slashed its budget by $32 million.

5/11/2011 Related Story: Oklahoma Democrats Blast Budget Agreement

One of the most significant impacts from those cuts is an increase in co-pay for families receiving DHS subsidies for child care.

"It will ultimately hurt the children," Jamilah Drew said.

Drew, the owner of Kid's World Child Care Center in Tulsa, said a rise in co-pay will cripple the low-income and mostly single-parent families.

"The parents are already having a tough time paying it as it is and I just don't want to see the children left at home," she said. 

The child care subsidies go to low-income parents who work or are in school. Parents will now have to pay $6 to $60 more a month based on their income to receive the DHS assistance.

Another change is that parents applying for subsidies in the future have to make nearly $6,000 less to qualify. DHS will save more than $8 million with the measures.

"Parents can't afford what it really costs for quality child care. It costs more for quality child care than college tuition," Karen Smith, Child Care Resource Center, said.

The Child Care Resource Center helps families find quality child care and Director Karen Smith said the changes will pose a difficult choice to parents.

"Either quit work and then they'll be left with needing to go on DHS financial assistance because they are not working, or they will start using friend and neighbor care, or basically unlicensed care," she said.

At Kid's World, Drew said the kids will suffer the most in the end.

"I'm saddened because it's not right," she said.

DHS said this is the first co-pay increase in 14 years. The agency blames employee retirement cost increases, higher state dollar requirements to fund Medicaid and more background checks in child welfare cases.

Of the department's $32 million budget cut, $15.3 million was taken from Child Care Development Funds, which must now operate on $171 million.

DHS is projected to have a $15 million surplus in Temporary Assistance for Needy Family funds at the end of 2012 fiscal year.

Sheree Powell, OKDHS Spokesperson, said that surplus cannot be applied to the child care needs because the agency has to have a certain amount of cash to operate on in case of an emergency.

"If the federal government stopped or delayed reimbursements to OKDHS for any reason, we would have to use that cash to fulfill our daily obligations," she said.

Powell said the Commission for Human Services discussed that option at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, but ruled it out for those reasons.

The new budget goes into effect July 1, 2011.