(OKLAHOMA CITY) The Oklahoma State Senate Monday approved emergency funding solutions that will prevent Medicaid cuts for more than 139,000 Oklahomans and reduce prison guard furloughs for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Senators also approved supplemental appropriations for four other state agencies.
“The budget situation we are in is far more critical than anyone could have imagined but ensuring public safety and providing health care for our most vulnerable citizens are two of the most important services that state government provides. These appropriations will go a long way toward filling this year’s budget gaps for the Department of Corrections and Health Care Authority and protecting these vital services from further cuts this year,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.
House Bill 1241 was approved the full Senate in a 42-2 vote. It provides a $9 million supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections. The funds will allow the department to reduce dramatically the number of planned furlough days for its more than 4,700 employees.
Additionally, the bill appropriates $1 million to the Office of State Finance for a crucial upgrade of its computer system. Another $477,000 is headed to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Office of Juvenile Affairs is set to receive $100,000 in supplemental funds. All $10.6 million of the funds in House Bill 1241 will come from the state’s Constitutional Reserve Fund. Governor Brad Henry declared a fiscal emergency Monday morning, clearing the way for use of the “Rainy Day” funds.
Senators also approved House Bill 1246 Monday afternoon by a 43-1 vote. The measure takes $7.2 million from available cash at the Department of Human Services and appropriates it to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. It includes $2.7 million promised to the authority by legislative leaders late last year and another $4.5 million needed to off-set the latest round of budget cuts for the current fiscal year. It is intended to prevent proposed OHCA cuts that would raise eligibility standards resulting in the reduction or elimination of Medicaid benefits for children, senior citizens and other needy Oklahomans. Without the funds, Health Care Authority officials said they would need to implement the cuts beginning May 1. The $7.2 million will be paid back to DHS as part of its Fiscal Year 2004 appropriation.
“This funding will allow the Health Care Authority to continue to fund medical services for thousands of children, pregnant women and nursing home care for our elderly – needy Oklahomans, many of whom can’t fend for themselves,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Ben Robinson, D-Muskogee.
A third measure, House Bill 1245, appropriates $600,000 to the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. Those funds will be taken from the Court Fund. It passed by a 43-0 vote.
All three bills now head to the House, where they could be heard as early as Tuesday.
Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson said that, although the supplemental appropriations will help fund crucial services this year, they don’t solve the state’s budget crisis for Fiscal Year 2004. Lawmakers are facing a $677 million budget shortfall for FY 2004.
“Both Democrats and Republicans supported the supplemental appropriations package passed the Senate today. We need to continue, in the same bi-partisan manner, to look for creative ways to provide additional revenue to help fill this historic budget gap,” said Hobson, D-Lexington.