Oklahoma is not O.K. for those working with the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Starting Monday, October 30, over 1,000 department employees will be staying home to help the state save money. That won’t be enough to stem the estimated $10.0-million cash crunch, though. The agency said it plans to lay off around 250 employees, or 12% of its workforce, next year.
Employees at the department were notified of the job furloughs and layoffs in an e-mail sent out on Wednesday.
Back in September, the agency announced that employees making more than $35,000 annually would need to take a one-day furlough every two weeks, or two every month. The forced furloughs translate into a 10% reduction in pay for as long as the furlough lasts. In the short term, that means some employees will lose between $400.00 and $600.00 by the end of 2017.
Because of the furloughs, the department will save just $44,500 weekly, or $178,000 monthly. The Oklahoma Health Department has permission to continue with its furlough program through the end of June if required.
Despite knowing about the furloughs, employees were caught off guard with regards to the layoffs. An employee at the department said they were told the agency would be providing voluntary buyouts, offering a benefits severance package lasting 18 months. Instead of voluntarily leaving their positions or retiring, employees received an in-house email informing them of the layoffs.
With regards to the 250 layoffs, officials have not yet said which positions will be targeted. It is estimated that it will take four to six weeks to submit a plan. Impacted employees will receive 60 days’ notice after the Office of Management and Enterprise Services grants approval to the plan.
A spokesperson for the agency said a large number of the layoffs will take place in county health departments throughout the state. The layoffs will cut about 12% from the department’s 2,060 employees.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the job cuts have nothing to do with the budget crisis. Oddly enough, though, the agency said it’s not clear how the funding shortfall occurred. To get to the bottom of the mystery, the Oklahoma Health Department has asked the state auditor’s office to conduct an audit to examine its finances.
In addition to job cuts and mandatory furloughs, the Health Department announced last week plans to end payments to health centers and child abuse prevention programs. The move will save the agency around $3.0 million.
Part of the budgetary shortfall might be because the Health Department didn’t take a budget cut when the state Supreme Court struck down a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax. The special audit should answer the question once and for all. Until then, employees at the Oklahoma State Health Department are left hanging–and with a little less money this holiday season.
“WARN Report,” Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, October 26, 2017.
“Oklahoma health department employees face furloughs, layoffs beginning Monday,” The Oklahoman, October 26, 2017.
Facebook post, Rep. Josh Crockett Facebook page, last modified October 26, 2017.