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Oklahoma agency funding drops but demand stays up

BY JULIE BISBEE Published: December 27, 2009
uot;It looks like its going to be a very tough year for schools. The size of the cuts they are forced to make are going to require districts to lay people off.”

Food stamps
A deep recession is making the need for some services such as food stamps or subsidized health care more necessary.

The number of people on food stamps has skyrocketed. In November, 561,111 people — about a sixth of the state’s population — were on food stamps.

That number surpasses the previous record set in December 2005 when 443,045 people were on food stamps, said Mary Leaver, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

"We’re trying to make cuts that don’t impact people,” Leaver said. "But this is happening when we’re seeing an unprecedented demand for our services.”

Officials at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority are also seeing the number of people apply for services such as Medicaid and SoonerCare increase, said Nico Gomez, spokesman for the Health Care Authority.

Since 2004, enrollment has increased 27.7 percent to 676,590. Like the Department of Human Services, the Health Care Authority receives a substantial amount of federal funds to help the program. Gomez said the authority is already limiting some services to clients — such as the availability of brand name prescription drugs — to cut its budget.

"We start every conversation with, ‘Is there a way to get there doing the least harm to the people we serve?’” Gomez said. "We’ll continue to try to find savings that do the least harm.”