TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Human Services spent $14 million on employees who resigned or accepted voluntary buyouts during the past year, which was 70 percent more than it spent on that the previous year.
The increase in so-called "terminal leave" payments comes as the agency decreases staff in some areas and increases it in another department, the Tulsa World reported Sunday.
DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said the increase in terminal pay was to be expected because DHS has reduced staff by more than 1,200 employees over the past two years.
The buyouts are part of the agency's plan to restructure following budget cuts. The restructuring came about after the agency reached a negotiated settlement in 2012 of a class-action lawsuit that alleged abuses of children in the foster care system. The resulting Pinnacle Plan, among other goals, called for an increase in the number of child welfare workers.
Since then, the agency has added about 800 employees in the Child Welfare Division. The number of child welfare specialists on the payroll increased from 1,934 in July 2014 to 2,508 this June, according to a Tulsa World analysis of payroll records.
Meanwhile, the number of social services specialists has decreased by 310 employees, to 1,312, during the same time period. The agency has reduced the number of administrative technicians by another 100, to a total of 357, over the past 24 months.
When the current employee force reduction is complete, DHS will have reduced its overall ranks from 7,017 to 6,790, Powell said.
The employee layoffs were necessary as the agency faced a $100 million budget shortfall as it headed into fiscal 2017, which began July 1. The state agency had an operational budget of $755 million but received only $652 million in state appropriations, Powell said.
Since receiving its appropriation, the agency cut $45 million from its budget and received an additional $16 million in state funds as part of its share of excess funding that was returned to state agencies, leaving a roughly $40 million funding gap. Powell said the agency expects to ask the Legislature for a supplemental funding request to make up the shortfall.