OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers plan to make a “historic investment” to clear a decade-long wait list that serves Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The $32.5 million investment that lawmakers hope will clear the backlog is expected to be one of the hallmarks of the $9.84 billion budget unveiled Monday evening. Lawmakers planed to hold their first public discussion and committee vote on Senate Bill 1040 on Tuesday. They could wrap up the legislative session as early as Friday.

State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, the Senate appropriations chair, said the budget also increases funding for colleges and universities and K-12 schools and helps rural fire department.

“Probably one of the biggest things that I’m excited about is fully funding the waiting list,” Thompson said.

Disability advocates Monday night called the investment “historic.”

More than 5,000 Oklahomans remain on the waiting list for Medicaid programs that provide services to adults and children. The program is designed to help keep Oklahomans with disabilities out of institutionalized settings. Those individuals typically wait an average of 13 years for services.

Oklahoma Republicans have made it a priority to fully fund and eliminate the wait list.

“We are pleased that the Legislature has prioritized the needs of this vulnerable population,” said Lisa Turner, CEO for The Arc of Oklahoma, a disability rights organization. “This significant funding increase will go a long way in serving Oklahomans with disabilities on the waiting list and helping them reach their full potential by living the lives they want in the communities that they choose.”

However, advocates called for increased accountability and transparency from the Department of Human Services, which administers the program, and urged lawmakers to track exactly how the funds are being spent each year toward serving Oklahomans on the wait list.

“We remain hopeful given all the talk around ending the waiting list; however, we have to be cautiously optimistic until we see a budget that includes a dollar figure that actually equates to providing services for the more than 5,000 Oklahomans currently on the waiting list,” said RoseAnn Duplan, policy and planning specialist with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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