Flanked by more than 30 older Oklahomans, leaders with the Oklahoma County Democratic Party called on state leaders Thursday to restore money for Oklahoma’s senior nutrition programs. "If there’s any group that needs to be protected from budget cuts, it would be seniors who need to eat to sustain their own livelihoods,” said Tom Guild, secretary of the Oklahoma County Democratic Party. All state agencies have been ordered to make across-the-board 5 percent cuts in state allocations since August. Those monthly cuts will continue through June, the end of the fiscal year. The Department of Human Services cut $7.4 million from the senior nutrition program. Most of the money is used by area aging agencies across the state to pay for senior nutrition centers and home-delivered meals. The funding cuts take effect Sunday. Some centers affected by the cuts are planning to close facilities, limit services or furlough employees, a legislator said.
Plea to governorGuild called on DHS to reverse its decision and put back the money, and asked Gov. Brad Henry either to call a special session so legislators can consider funding the nutrition program or use some of his $105 million discretionary federal stimulus funds. Interviewed later, DHS Director Howard Hendrick said the funding being reduced is not matched by federal funds. Most of the other programs in his department are matched by federal funds, and he said he picked a part of his budget that would have the least economic impact. "This is very frustrating for us also,” Hendrick said. "We are likely to see more cuts. What we’re trying to do with the selective cuts is cut things where we lose the fewest number of federal dollars. ... We have not cut any of the state funding for nutrition sites that are federally matched.”
More cuts expectedHenry’s spokesman, Paul Sund, said the nutrition program’s financial problems "are just the tip of the iceberg and that many, many other crucial services will soon be facing similar cuts, if they are not already.” The governor is working with legislative leaders on the budget crisis, Sund said. The stimulus funds are for one-time projects and were committed early in the summer before the latest revenue shortfalls occurred, he said. Supporters of restoring the funding to the senior citizen nutrition program are planning to hold a rally at 11 a.m. Wednesday on the second-floor rotunda.
Department of Human Services Director
Oklahoma County Democratic Party secretary