FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dena Drabek, The Arc of Oklahoma
DDrabek@TheArcOK.org; (405) 590-5889
Disability Advocates Respond to Investment to Clear Waiting List for Services
OKLAHOMA CITY (May 17, 2022) – The Oklahoma Legislature and Department of Human Services (DHS) announced a historic investment of $32.5 million to support Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and the direct care workforce that serves them.
“Hope is on the horizon for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and their support staff,” said Lisa Turner, CEO for The Arc of Oklahoma, a disability rights organization. “We are pleased that the Legislature has prioritized the needs of this vulnerable population. This significant funding increase will go a long way in serving Oklahomans with disabilities on the waiting list and helping them reach their full potential by living the lives they want in the communities that they choose.”
With more public dollars appropriated than ever before, developmental disability advocates and families are also calling for more accountability and transparency from DHS as they serve Oklahomans with developmental disabilities who have been waiting an average of 13 years to receive the supports needed to live more independently and participate in the workforce.
“Oklahoma Disability Law Center is pleased to see this historic commitment to fund home and community-based services in Oklahoma,” said Melissa Sublett, Executive Director of The Oklahoma Disability Law Center. “While we are happy to see these increased efforts to serve all the individuals who have been waiting so long for services, we are also monitoring to ensure that this rush to clear the waiting list is done so in a way that protects the due process rights of each applicant and that cases are not closed simply in the interest of quickly eliminating the waiting list.”
Even with significantly more funding, some in the disability community remain skeptical after a report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) in 2021 revealed that DHS’ management of the developmental disability services waiver program has not led to substantial progress toward the state’s goal of providing services to all those waiting.
“Parents and taxpayers alike have a right to be asking questions about how the Legislature will ensure DHS spends this money the way it is intended,” said Greg Arend, CEO of Oklahoma-based SOAR Partners. “We encourage lawmakers to request DHS track exactly how much is spent each year towards serving Oklahomans on the waiting list and publicly report it.”
While disability advocates and families say they do want to find common ground with DHS in Oklahoma’s effort to serve those waiting for long-term supports, they also cling tight to, “Nothing About Us Without Us,” – a mantra that has fueled the disability rights movement over the years.
“People with disabilities have a voice that should and must be at the table from the beginning of any planning process and should never simply be an after-thought,” said Jeryldine Schutte-Pogue, Executive Director for Oklahoma People First, Inc. “It is important for Oklahomans with disabilities to have the opportunity to share their voice and their lived experience with those who are making changes that will affect them.”
Disability advocates and families look forward to working with DHS and the Legislature on further development of plans to successfully serve Oklahomans on the waiting list who qualify for services. They are also awaiting the release of the LOFT’s one year follow-up report highlighting any changes made by DHS since the initial report was released in October 2021.
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