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Strapped Oklahoma DHS to Offer Buyouts

18-Jan-2016

A notorious state budget shortfall is crippling already financially strapped schools and state agencies. Oklahoma is experiencing a $900 million budget shortfall, with more cuts to be expected. For schools, this means mid-year budget cuts of nearly $47 million over the next six months. Oklahoma schools already ranks at the bottom of the nation in per-pupil spending, and the state has cut the education budget by nearly 23 percent since 2008--more than any other state in the nation.

But schools aren't the only ones who will be affected by the catastrophic budget failure. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections--which is currently staffed at only 60 percent largely because of low pay for guards and insufficient funds to fully staff prisons--will have to cut $11.8 million.

And the Oklahoma Department of Human Services--which has long struggled and has been subject to federal lawsuits in order to ensure quality care for Oklahoma children--will have to improve child welfare to meet the terms of the settlement with an $18.7 million cut over the next six months. Over the next 18 months, that number skyrockets to $68 million in cuts.

To handle these cuts, DHS is offering buyouts for employees. According to news reports, the agency has not set a limit to the number of employees who can participate in the buyouts and hopes "several hundred employees will take advantage of the voluntary buyout."

Several hundred employees in an agency where many social workers already have too heavy a case load and child welfare workers are criticized nationally for letting children slip through the cracks. 

The agency insists that the buyout will not affect the services it provides, saying that DHS has instituted a hiring freeze for all positions except child welfare specialists. With more than 10,500 children in Oklahoma in need of DHS services, cutting these numbers further would directly impact many underprivileged, abuses, and neglected children in the state.

DHS also says that it will cut contracts related to training and professional services--not to individual services, Medicaid, child welfare, or programs for the elderly or developmentally disabled. 

And when determining where to cut, DHS says it will pull from programs where they have "overbudgeted."

So what can DHS employees who participate in the voluntary buyout expect?

  • A payment based on years of service ranging from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $10,000. 
  • A payment equal to 18 months of the employee-only health premium. 
  • The employee's next longevity payment that would have been received after separation. 
  • A payment of the employee's accumulated vacation hours in accordance with state policy.
  • A separation date of March 15

Additionally, those eligible for retirement will have until January 27 to file for a retirement date of April 1.

The agency admits that it does not know whether the buyouts will be sufficient to avoid layoffs in the coming months.

Although DHS continues to reiterate that it will deal with the budget cuts in a way that minimizes impact on individual services, it seems impossible that a shortfall of this magnitude will not have a direct impact on Oklahomans in need of help.



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