By Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma’s state Senate Democrats rejoiced, and Republicans made a point of noting, when the Fiscal Year 2011 budget agreement announced today included $5 million to finance senior nutrition programs.
Charlie Laster of Shawnee, Senate Democratic leader, told Capitol reporters, “We’re pretty pleased. We believe that if Democrats in the House and Senate, particularly in the Senate, had not brought attention to the senior nutrition program, and to the REAP (Rural Economic Action Program) we would not have gotten a deal this good.”
Democrats had pressed the issue throughout the session, underscoring it in March, when deliberations around a second round of Fiscal Year 2010 budget reductions were at a delicate stage.
Sen. Kenneth Corn of Poteau, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, said “It was a difficult, difficult fight to get funding. This is a major victory for senior citizens across Oklahoma.” Corn and Sen. Tom Ivester of Elk City brought attention to the issue by camping on the Capitol steps in protest after state Department of Human Services directors cut the program last fall.
Corn, the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman, was among the vociferous critics of cuts in the senior nutrition funding, which the Department of Human Services announced last fall.
“This fight was always about doing what was right,” Corn said. “The budget is not perfect, this part of the agreement is not perfect – but I can put my head down on my pillow tonight and I know that our seniors are going to be fed,” he said.
Also cheering the outcome was Sen. David Myers, a Ponca City Republican, who said, “Oklahoma seniors have invested so much in this state and left many legacies for future generations to follow. As we approached this legislative session, we knew budgeting challenges would come and difficult decisions would need to be made. But protecting seniors remained a top priority among legislative leaders, and the budget provides necessary funding for our senior nutrition centers.
“Even during a difficult budget year, this is a bright day for Oklahoma as we work to protect seniors across the state.”