OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's Department of Human Services needs almost $33 million in state tax dollars to operate the agency through the end of June and meet some of its obligations under the settlement of a class-action lawsuit over the care of children in its custody, the agency's director said Monday.
DHS' new director Ed Lake told members of a House budget committee that oversees the agency's funding that much of the request is the result of a precipitous increase in the number of foster children in the agency's care since the Pinnacle Plan was developed as part of the settlement agreement to improve its child-welfare services.
"When the Pinnacle Plan was approved in 2012, we had about 8,500 children in our custody," Lake said. "We now have over 11,000. That's put tremendous pressure on our system in many ways, not the least of which is our funding."
Rep. Jason Nelson, the chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services, told Lake it will be difficult to meet the agency's request given the dwindling amount of money available for appropriation. Money coming into to the state's general operating fund for the current fiscal year is trailing projections by about 3 percent, and there is little extra available for supplemental appropriations.
"The revenue streams coming in are not cooperating, and that's going to make funding difficult, whether that's this year with the supplemental request or next year," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.
Nelson noted the Legislature already has appropriated $57 million in new funding to the agency over the last two years to help meet the obligations under the Pinnacle Plan, including an increase in pay for certain child welfare workers and to hire hundreds of new employees.
"I think the Legislature has been very helpful in reaching the goals of the Pinnacle Plan," Nelson said.
Lake said the agency's $32.8 million in supplemental funding could be used to leverage an additional $17 million in federal funds available under the Social Security Act and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program.
Besides the $13.3 million needed to meet the growing number of foster families and adoptions, Lake said the funding request includes $5 million for a pay increase for child welfare specialists, $6.6 million for a rate increase for foster care and adoption homes and $7.8 million for a shortfall in funding for child welfare services.
Complicating the agency's efforts to dramatically overhaul its child welfare programs is a change approved by Oklahoma voters in 2012 that abolished the Commission for Human Services and replaced it with four separate advisory councils.
"I can't overstate how difficult it is to be changing the way you do fundamental programs while you're trying to reorganize the structure of a department as large as ours," Lake said.
Lake accepted the DHS director post in November 2012 as the dust settled from the class-action lawsuit that stemmed from several high-profile deaths of children in state custody.