Eliminating 'Swag' Spending Could Spare Cuts To Oklahoma Elderly

Thursday, November 2nd 2017, 6:23 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

The state is $215 million in the hole, but continues to spend $30-million a year on so-called swag like tee shirts and stress balls. 

Alice Helton is scared.

"This is my home. This is...everyone is my family. They're my family.  My extended family.  And I love each and every one of them,” said Helton. 

Ms. Helton is one of about 100 residents of the Village at Oakwood, the only assisted living facility of its kind in the state for low income seniors. Wednesday, they were told the state could cut the ADvantage waiver program that helps pay their living expenses. 

In all, the cuts could affect 20,000 Oklahomans.

"They were very very very upset,” said John Wilson, administrator at the Village at Oakwood. “Many of them crying. Very anxious. Wondering about what is available to them."

"I couldn't talk for a long time yesterday after john told us. It's crazy. It's crazy,” said Ms. Helton.

Even as Ms. Helton and her Village at Oakwood friends worried about their future, a Senate committee discussed the state's controversial swag budget, spending $30-million a year on monogrammed pens, tee shirts and stress balls.

Backers like Senator Kay Floyd (D) Oklahoma City say the stress balls save veterans lives. "And that stress ball is something that they can carry around with them, but it also has a hotline number or additional information that that veteran needs in order to get benefits or resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs." 

Senator Rob Standridge passed a bill out of committee that would stop spending on swag, at least until we're out of this budget crisis. Standridge said that would save the state $15-million this year and $30-million next year.

"Maybe that is not that much to ask to ask them to have a delay for six months,” said Standridge.

Helton can't believe lawmakers are talking about paying for pens and stress balls when she's stressed about being homeless.

"We have people here that has no family. And they're just going to be out on the street. They can't put us out on the street,” said Helton.