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State's developmental disabilities services waiting list a budget priority for Stitt

Daily Oklahoman - 2/14/2020

Feb. 14--When Justin Brown told state lawmakers he needed an additional $16 million for his state agency's next budget, he was met with a round of applause.

It was a rare response to a request for more money.

Brown, who leads the state Department of Human Services, said he wants to use those dollars to provide services to people with developmental disabilities who have been on a waiting list for over a decade.

As of Feb. 12, over 5,570 individuals with conditions like autism or cerebral palsy were on a waiting list to receive residential services including medical or personal care, job training, case management and more.

"That is roughly a 13-year wait," Brown said. "Which is really challenging for all of us in the agency to accept. We looked at it and said we need to make some material impact on this."

In Gov. Kevin Stitt's recently proposed state budget for Fiscal Year 2021, the wait list is noted as an item of "critical need" with $6 million dedicated to reducing its numbers.

With $16 million, the agency could take up to 2,000 individuals off the list. With $6 million, it would be closer to 700 individuals off the list and three years off the list's backlog, according to DHS.

Samantha Galloway, chief of staff for DHS, said even though Stitt's proposed amount is less than the agency asked for, it will make an impact.

"With any investment that we might receive this year, I think that it will allow us to really reset the conversation about how we support people with developmental disabilities in Oklahoma," Galloway said.

Over the years, the Legislature has approved funds to specifically address the wait list.

That stopped after the last round of budget shortfalls hit the state. But an uptick in tax collections in recent years brought back those additional dollars, and $2 million was dedicated to the list over the last two budget cycles.

If Stitt's budget recommendation sticks through upcoming financial negotiations in the Legislature, Brown said it will be the first time the agency has received that large of an appropriation toward addressing the wait.

"There is an alignment that is pretty incredible," Brown said. "This is an issue where it feels like the governor and both houses of the Legislature are very supportive."


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