Emergency funds authorized for Oklahoma drug programs - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Emergency funds authorized for Oklahoma drug programs

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Oklahoma lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that could be a lifesaver for many residents battling drug abuse.

By a two-thirds majority, the Oklahoma State Senate gave the OK to use "rainy day fund" dollars to fund mental health services.

Just last week, many health agencies feared that they were the next victims of a series of state budget cuts after a $250 million shortfall.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will get about $23 million, but agencies such as YouthCare of Oklahoma in Durant see it as a temporary solution.

"It's a Band-Aid on a bullet wound when they are giving us extra money from a fund that that we really shouldn't be depleting," YouthCare president Keylee Tesar said. "We should be making decisions that are long-term in the better interest of Oklahomans."

On Monday, the House offered unanimous support for the funding bill. Members said it was the best option to avoid raising taxes.

"The House felt like the best thing to do was to stabilize the current situation and to ensure that mental health services weren't interrupted," said Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall.

McCall noted there is still $83 million in carry-over money to give to the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. But some agencies are still worried they will ever have long-term funding stability.

"The concern is long-term. If they fix the revenue, great," Tesar said. "But how many people will did we lose from the field because they are in fear that the funding is not going to be there?" 

State Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-6th District) agrees, and understands that lawmakers have more work to do.

"This doesn't fill the entirety of their hole, and the expectation is that they will utilize these funds in the most efficient way possible," Brecheen said.

The hope is these emergency funds will last until April 2018.  Speaker McCall said the House is working on a bill to continue funding through the end of the fiscal year.

Lawmakers urge citizens to keep in touch with local representatives about their concerns.

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