One day after a public battle over who's to blame for massive cuts to the Department of Human Services, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives canned the chair of Appropriation and Budget.
Last week, DHS announced $30 million in cuts, despite getting more money from the state than it did last year. House Speaker Charles McCall called for an audit of the agency. But Appropriations and Budget Chair, Representative Leslie Osborn, said the cuts were necessary because of increased costs. Today she says she paid for her statements.
Meanwhile, politics aside, the cuts will have a huge impact.
Lucinda Barboza wants to go to school to become a nurse, but she can't afford daycare and DHS plans to cut its daycare subsidy program.
"I have four kids that I have to take care of by myself and I don't have nobody else to depend on," Barboza said.
Last year DHS received almost $681 million from the state. This year, it's getting $699 million; an $18 million increase. But there's more to the story.
"We have faced multiple years of cost increases in many programs,” DHS Spokeswoman Sheree Powell said. “Our home and community based programs, serving seniors and people with disabilities, those are federal programs matched with state dollars. The federal dollars have been decreasing every year for the past three years."
Over the past few years Powell says DHS has made $80 million in cuts, and slashed 1,200 positions, 700 of those in the last year.
So here's what we can expect in additional cuts:
DHS will freeze the child care subsidy program that offers help paying for daycare for parents who want to return to school or work. That freeze will be in place for six months
The agency will reduce meals for the elderly by about 277,000 meals and close down up to 30 meal sites, mostly in western Oklahoma.
Powell says these cuts are real and nothing will stop them.
"No, no, I don't think that would be realistic. That the state just does not have the money to do that."
Back to the politics of this, Representative Osborn did release a statement that reads:
“Speaker McCall’s decision to relieve me of my duties as Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee is his to make. I am disheartened by his decision, but I am not deterred in my desire to work for the betterment of our wonderful State. Oklahomans are calling out for leadership, and I intend to answer their call. Oklahomans across the state have told me they are utterly disgusted at the divisive way we conduct our business at the State Capitol. It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state. I have always been willing to find solutions through conversations instead of conflict. Be assured, I will continue to stand up for finding achievable solutions to the myriad of problems in Oklahoma that keep us mired in mediocracy. I am here to serve and serving Oklahomans is what I intend to do. To that end, I want to say thank you for the overwhelming support I’ve received from members of the House and the public since this news was released. I’m humbled and uplifted by this sincere support. I also appreciate Speaker McCall allowing me the privilege to chair this committee.”
When asked if Osborn was relieved of her chairmanship because of her comments, a spokesman for McCall simply said, “Absolutely not.”