Eldercare program dropped in budget

Tuesday, May 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's $5.8 million eldercare program was dropped from the state Health Department budget on Monday as lawmakers continued to seek ways to make up a huge revenue deficit.

``It's gone as we know it,'' said Rep. M.C. Leist, D-Morris, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on health and social services.

Leist said $1.7 million was being transferred to the Department of Human Services, where it will be matched with federal funds to make money available for low-income elderly citizens for eldercare services.

Under the eldercare program, services are provided to older Oklahomans to allow them to stay in their homes instead of being sent to nursing homes.

Leist said about 1,000 of the 2,000 Oklahomans now served by eldercare would not qualify under the new program. He said the hope is the new program will serve more low-income citizens, however.

The final Health Department budget was set at $53.6 million, down 16.6 percent, or $10.3 million from a year ago.

The board that oversees the health agency had previously gone on record in favor of eliminating the eldercare program and so children's' programs could be saved.

Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, said elimination of the program was an example of the consequences of trying to make up a $700 million shortfall without raising revenue.

``Eldercare was a good program, but when you're $700 million down something's got to go,'' Hobson said. ``It's typical of what's going to happen without additional revenue.''

Early in the session, Hobson proposed a 1-cent sales tax increase and other measures to raise revenue, but his proposals never got off the ground.

He said the task of lawmakers now is to minimize the damage to state services as they shoot for ending the session on May 23, a week ahead of a constitutional deadline.

In other decisions Monday, Leist's subcommittee voted out a $439 million appropriation for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the Medicaid program. That is an increase of $24.4 million from this year's revised appropriations, but a reduction from the agency's original funding authority.

Lawmakers also approved a $24.9 million appropriation for the Department of Veterans Affairs that includes $1 million for the Lawton -Veterans Center.

They reduced the University Hospital Authority appropriation by $3.6 million. Of that savings, $1 million was transferred to the veterans agency for the Lawton center and $300,000 to the J.D. McCarty Center for bond debt service on a new building. The McCarty facility treats cerebral palsy patients.