About 400 Oklahomans crowded around the second-floor rotunda of the state Capitol today to ask state leaders to restore funding to senior nutrition programs.
Gov. Brad Henry, whose office is on the same floor, did not attend. But he spent Tuesday night and early this morning talking to advocates about a possible solution to the financial crisis.
Charles Campbell, a coordinator of today's rally, said Henry called him Tuesday evening and told him that the state Department of Human Services, which cut $7.4 million from the senior nutrition program because of state revenue shortfalls, is willing to use money earmarked for other programs but not due to be spent until later this fiscal year.
Campbell, who like Henry is from Shawnee, said the governor told him that DHS Director Howard Hendrick wanted assurances from the Republican legislative leadership that the money will be restored to his department when lawmakers return in special session in February.
Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, who with Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, camped out overnight on the Capitol grounds, said the governor stopped by their tent about 12:30 this morning and told him about his idea.
Corn said he liked the idea. But if Republican legislative leaders don't agree, he still supports the calling of a special session. He and other legislators signed petitions today asking for a special session. He has to get two-thirds of the 101-member House and 48-member Senate to sign the petition to get a special session called. Minority House leader Danny Morgan, D-Prague, said House Democrats would not seek being paid for their expenses to keep costs of a special session down.
AARP Oklahoma gave people empty paper plates to show how Oklahoma's greatest generation — the name given to those who fought in World War II — is now fighting hungry. They were asked to sign their names and give it to their legislators.
Marjorie Lyons, volunteer state president of AARP Oklahoma, said the funding cut is affecting thousands of elderly Oklahomans.
"From north to south, east to west, in cities and towns like Edmond, Calera, Maysville, Caddo, Wynnewood, Roff, Commerce, Choteau and Locust Grove, senior nutrition sites are no longer serving lunch," said Lyons, of Broken Arrow. "And you won't find a meal on any Friday between now and the end of the fiscal year in Enid, Ponca City, Newkirk, Blackwell or Billings."
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, called again on Henry to use 5 percent of his $105 million in discretionary federal stimulus funds for the program. The governor earlier said those funds already were committed and they are to be spent on one-time projects.
The state Department of Human Services cut $7.4 million earmarked for some senior nutrition programs to deal with a monthly 5 percent cut in state funding. Those monthly funding cuts are expected to continue through June, the end of this fiscal year, because state revenue has come in 26 percent below estimates for the first quarter.