OKLAHOMA CITY - State legislators representing western Oklahoma are applauding a decision by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to keep their Sayre office in Beckham County open for in-person services.
Due to the budget gap for Fiscal Year 2021 resulting from the economic impact of COVID-19 and a global downturn in energy prices, DHS saw its appropriation cut by 3.7 percent. After moving much of their workforce to remote status during the pandemic, the agency determined it could continue to keep their employees on the job by working online or at other facilities, while achieving savings by closing about half of their brick and mortar locations.
Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, thanked DHS director Justin Brown for reversing the decision to close the Sayre office, which he said provided vital services to children, families and the elderly.
“I am supportive of efforts to identify efficiencies and I think there are parts of the state where moving services online will work, but it’s important to remember there are areas where reliable, affordable internet access just isn’t available, and it may not be possible for some individuals to travel long distances for in-person services,” Jech said. “We’re talking about services that some of our most vulnerable citizens rely on, so keeping this office open is the right thing to do.”
Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, said he would continue to monitor the effect of no longer having brick and mortar buildings in Greer, Kiowa and Washita Counties, but he is pleased that the physical office buildings in Beckham and Roger Mills Counties will remain in use. He also cited concerns about senior nutrition services.
“Director Brown and I had a good conversation about DHS facilities as well as the Senior Nutrition Sites in District 55,” Russ said. “While I would prefer them to leave each DHS facility open, I am pleased they have decided not to abandon the brick and mortar office in Beckham County after all and have not given a date certain to vacate any other DHS office buildings in the district. The director also assured me that the Senior Nutrition Sites are on the top of the agenda to get opened in our area after I spoke to him of the continuing need to be aware of the social and emotional health of our senior population as well as their physical wellbeing.”
Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, also supported the decision.
“I am happy to see that DHS is taking into consideration the needs of local communities, such as those in Beckham County, with the reversal of the closure of this local office,” Howard said. “While I hope that all levels of government will continue to find efficiencies, I think it is best to first look at community needs and trials of limited access rather than broad changes that may affect our most vulnerable populations.”
House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, said he, too, has been working with DHS to ensure some offices stay open.
“I’ve been very concerned about the offices that were going to be closed in western Oklahoma,” Wright said. “While it might seem we don’t need offices to serve our people in this area, in fact we do need offices that are closer than Oklahoma City or more than an hour-and-a-half away in other directions. I’m pleased DHS will keep offices in Clinton and Sayre open to serve the people in this area. It is paramount that we have these offices along I-40.”
For more information, contact:
Sen. Darcy Jech at 405-521-5545, Darcy.Jech@oksenate.gov
Sen. Brent Howard at 405-521-5612, Brent.Howard@oksenate.gov
House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright at 405-557-7325, Harold.Wright@okhouse.gov
Rep. Todd Russ at 405-557-7312, Todd.Russ@okhouse.gov