Senior Nutrition Cuts Show Need for Greater Budget Oversight

Senior Nutrition Cuts Show Need for Greater Budget Oversight

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

This past week, I have received multiple phone calls from constituents concerned about the reduction of funds for the senior citizen nutrition centers. The Department of Human Services, which provide the money for free or near-free meals for seniors, decided that due to recent cuts to their agency budgets, they would reduce the funding.

I have visited a number of nutrition centers across my district and understand how essential it is to help provide a hot, nutritious meal and regular social interaction to our population of senior citizens. Providing for our elders is also a moral obligation. It was their generation that raised us and took care of us and it is now our turn to make sure they are comfortable.

The budget for DHS is $480 million. Of that, about half is dedicated to federal requirements. Therefore, there is about $240 million worth of discretionary spending available to the agency. Lump this in with the fact that top administrative staff at DHS received almost $200,000 in pay raises in the past year and it becomes clear that their priorities are misguided.

Records show 29 of the top 36 administrators at the agency received raises in the past year. The pay raises ranged between $135 per month to an additional $1,894 per month. The pay raises totaled $16,380 per month and $196,560 per year.

I think the choice may have been made to provide the biggest political outcry and put pressure on the Legislature to spare the agency future budget cuts. So, instead of finding judicious cuts to spending and ways to make their services more efficient, the agency has created a hardship.

A change is needed in the way agency funds are spent and requested. One idea would be to start with a zero-based budget for each agency and have the agency justify every expense in creating their budget. The Appropriation and Budget subcommittees can also line item the use of funds more specifically than has been done in the past. Lawmakers represent their constituents’ wishes. They should make spending decisions, not bureaucrats.

DHS was audited not long ago and the Legislature enacted new reforms based on that audit this past session. One problem that has been successfully addressed by reducing the number of children being put through the foster care system needlessly. However, the agency has allowed some foster parents who have acknowledged and admitted abuse in their homes to keep children. There has also been a problem of the agency shutting down daycares that have existed for decades without a single injury or complaint. Common sense should prevail in these certain cases.

How the agency handles budget cuts is just another item that will need scrutiny in the coming tough budget years. The budget year for FY2011 will be even more difficult if the revenue collections continue in their present trend. The $7 billion state budget may be reduced to a $5.25 billion budget in the next year.

I would love to continue to discuss the problem with constituents. If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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