Have you heard of the teachers marching on Oklahoma City? These educators are protesting the horrible wages they are paid because they have had enough. They have organized a strike that lasted 9-days before law makers finally met their demands. A 5 percent pay raise is now on the books for these teachers; however, the people waiting on the disability services backlog may not be so lucky. Could the same fighting spirit help those who are waiting on the decade long waiting list?
The Disability Services Backlog Is Increasing, Here’s Why…
In Tulsa County, there are 1,379 people waiting for disability benefits from the Department of Human Services. Some 325 of those people have been waiting for 10 years or more for those benefits. As it is right now, the only way off the waitlist is for someone receiving state disability benefits to die.
The programs in question are Medicaid waivers. They are funded by a combination of state funds and federal funds. However, the federal funds come from a matching assistance program that determines how much is given based on the poverty level in the state. This matching program has given Oklahoma as much as 66 percent funds in the past, but currently it pays 58.5 percent. That’s $58.50 of federal tax money for every $100 of Medicaid services spent in Oklahoma.
Over the years the number of Oklahoma’s Medicaid patients has gone from 796,189 people to 798,565, yet the legislature has cut budgets and whittled down Medicaid payouts. This has caused nursing homes and hospitals across the state to close, and it has kept the state from giving more people to the disability services they need. That means that the list of people needing services has grown when the available services has either reduced or stayed the same. That’s grim circumstance many Oklahomans with disabilities are now facing, but there is something that the state government can do about it.
In October, the federal Medicaid matching rate will go up to 62.4 percent. That will bring millions of dollars to our state’s Medicaid program. If some of that money is applied to the waitlist, that could mean benefits for many Oklahomans that need these services. The state could also choose to reduce the budget going to the Department of Human Services to offset the increase from federal matching, which could allow other state programs in need to increase their budgets. But such an offset would merely keep the amount of available disability services where it is, allowing the backlog to continue to grow.
What will the government do? After giving striking teachers the wage increase they asked for, will state legislators still be able to keep the DHS budget stable so that it may benefit from the increase in federal funding? Or, will legislators choose to reduce the DHS budget and use the savings to help pay for the teacher’s wages and other budget problems? The disability attorneys at Troutman & Troutman, P.C. will be sure to keep an eye on this issue to let Oklahomans with disabilities know where they stand in their struggle for benefits.