State Sen. Kenneth Corn is calling for “immediate action the first week of the legislative session” on his proposal to restore nearly $4.7 million in budget cuts made late last year to senior citizen nutrition meal programs around the state.
Corn wrote Senate Bill 2065 in order to swiftly return the funding once the Legislature convenes February 1. His measure would take money needed to restore the cuts from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Legislators have about $660 million in the emergency fund which they can use to pay for critical services and programs, such as the meal program.
In addition, Corn also has introduced SB 1808 which will guarantee a minimum of $7.4 million in meal program funding through most of 2011.
State Department of Human Services officials cut $7.4 million – about 30 percent of the program budget – from meal program funding in November after the state developed a more than $1 billion revenue shortfall. The drop is a result of America’s crumbling economy.
Corn’s bill would restore $4.66 million to ensure the program runs at full capacity for the remainder of the fiscal year which ends June 30.
To date, thousands of senior citizens who depend upon the meals for a majority of their daily food intake have lost access to hundreds of thousands of meals. At least 51 nutrition centers have closed because of the funding cuts and an estimated 161 have drastically reduced services. A total of nearly 800,000 fewer meals will be served from November of last year through June 2010 – unless the budget cut is restored.
“For more than two months Oklahoma’s elected leadership used excuse after excuse for not calling a special session to address this critical issue,” the Poteau Democrat said. “Now there are no more excuses. Legislative leaders and Gov. Henry have all said they support these programs and our senior citizens. Now we will see if they really do.”
Once the session begins, Corn said his legislation could wind through the legislative process within a week. “The Legislature could get this critical funding back to our senior citizens who need it in less than 15 days – if they just will.”
Corn and Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, camped out in a tent near the Capitol steps last year to bring attention to the cuts. “No one was talking about this tragedy. No one was doing anything. No one would lead, so Sen. Ivester and I thought someone needed to step up and try to get things done.
“What kind of message did it send to people and the rest of this nation when the first thing we allowed to be cut in tough economic times was meals for senior citizens?” Corn asked.
“What kind of message does it send to everyone right now if we now refuse to act swiftly to restore the cuts? Is that the kind of state people want Oklahoma to be?”
Corn circulated a petition among legislators last year that would have given them the power to call themselves back into session to deal with the meal program cuts before Christmas. Virtually every Democratic state senator and representative signed the petition. However, Republicans banned together and refused to sign the petition, derailing all efforts to solve the problem for more than three months.