How do you tell someone they no longer have a job? What about thousands of people?
How do you tell a person they won’t have necessary support at his/her group home and may end up homeless?
What would you say to people with disabilities who may not understand why these things are happening, but are suddenly thrust into a position no fault of their own?
These questions, and many more, loom as state agencies face the unenviable task of slashing budgets in the midst of the current funding shortfall in Oklahoma.
Since 1953, Dale Rogers Training Center (DRTC) has provided more than training and jobs for people with disabilities. DRTC has, among other things, offered a chance for those served to connect with one another, to grow personally and professionally, and to learn to advocate for themselves. The added benefit helps create hundreds of tax-paying citizens every year, who also contribute in many other ways in the community.
However, the funding well continues to pump ever so slowly in a state that hangs its hat on the oil and gas industry.
Countdown to zero
The most pressing concern now is funding the last two months of the current fiscal year. Without supplemental funding, agencies like the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) will have zero dollars to provide necessary programs and services to people, many of them vulnerable, statewide.
Funding measures are currently working through the legislature in an attempt to close the FY17 gap.
Dale Rogers Training Center, Oklahoma’s oldest and largest community vocational training and employment center for people with disabilities, serves 1,100 people every year. Last program year, the people with disabilities in its programs earned $5.3 million, paying taxes and not relying on government subsidies. They work in the community with you. They volunteer at many of the other nonprofits you’ve heard about. They are contributing Oklahomans.
Of the 1,100 people DRTC serves, 123 people work on the nonprofit’s main campus—located within six miles of the Capitol where costly decisions are being made. The rest of the individuals work in the community and on federal contracts.
State funding—which applies to 60 people at DRTC—provides opportunities in the Vocational Services Program, before and after hours care, and group training classes.
In Home Supports Waiver (IHSW)—impacts 32 people at DRTC —provides opportunities in DRTC’s Employment Services, Mobile Workforce, Special Needs and Vocational Services Programs, while also allowing for job coaching and services, transportation and additional areas of support that promote training and employment. These waivers receive federal matching dollars (approximately 60 cents for every 40 cents Oklahoma contributes), based on a review of the previous three years. Adults on IHSW receive just $20,671 a year to spend on all services (including vocational training and supports).
“Terrible to unthinkable”
The response to Oklahoma’s budget shortfall has already taken its toll.
Agencies have been asked repeatedly to slash budgets, make adjustments, and find ways to continue providing services with less and less money.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services recently submitted its proposal for Fiscal Year 2018—with cuts described by OKDHS Director Ed Lake as, “…ranging from the terrible to the unthinkable.”
Slashing OKDHS services up to 14% would reduce the agency’s operating budget by an expected $147 million and force tough decisions to either reduce or eliminate entire programs including State funded community services and the IHSW.
Statewide, OKDHS serves more than 3,100 children and adults with disabilities with these two programs alone.
These proposed cuts could lead to an even greater number of those without a job—the people who care for people with disabilities through IHSW and the caregivers who may have to quit work to care for their loved ones.
Waiting in line
Additional state agencies that help people with disabilities are also feeling the effects of the failing budget.
Oklahoma’s Department of Rehabilitation Services (OKDRS), which contracts services with DRTC’s Employment Services Program, set up a waiting list in January 2017 for two groups of applicants with less severe disabilities due to rising costs and state budget cuts. Two months later, the agency expanded its waiting list to all new applicants for vocational rehabilitation and employment services.
These people are now “in line” to receive services to find work in Oklahoma. OKDRS will release those on the wait list, making them available for services, as funding becomes available.
According to OKDRS, staff helped 2,125 people find jobs in FY16. These individuals each paid, on average, $3,144 in taxes, reducing their need for disability benefits and social services.
As DRTC helps promote self-advocacy skills to people with disabilities, the same is needed from you.
- Research legislation making its way through the legislature
- Contact your lawmaker about issues you’re passionate about
- Save our services
Bottom line: cutting services for people with disabilities will further hurt the state’s bottom line.
Advocate early. Advocate often. Advocate for the people of Oklahoma.
About Dale Rogers Training Center
Dale Rogers Training Center (DRTC) is the oldest and largest community vocational training and employment center for people with disabilities in Oklahoma. With multiple locations in Oklahoma, DRTC trains or employs more than 1,100 people with disabilities per year. Visit us online: DRTC.org.