Proposal to cut 25 percent from healthcare agency is ‘moral disaster,’ civil rights leader says
OKLAHOMA CITY – Longtime civil rights activist and preacher Jesse Jackson condemned Oklahoma legislators Sunday for legislative proposals that would cut 25 percent in Medicaid funding for the poor and disabled.
Jackson made his comments during a news conference outside the law office of David Slane, who called upon his friend to try and influence the budget decisions lawmakers will be making this week. Standing behind Jackson were dozens of people, some disabled, who would be affected by cuts to Medicaid funding.
Actions by Oklahoma lawmakers are meant to “demean the poor” and that “proposed cuts would have a devastating impact on the working poor in this state. Some of these citizens are veterans who have risked life and limb.”
“Our character is measured by how we treat the elderly, children and poor,” he said.
Later, Jackson said Oklahoma could not fund its $7 billion budget without money it receives from the federal government for such items as transportation, corrections and education. Then, he called upon Gov. Mary Fallin and lawmakers to stop their hypocrisy and accept the federal Medicaid expansion funds which are part of Obamacare.
“There’s money for everything but the poor,” Jackson said. “Why would the state block federal money for its people.”
Oklahoma is one of 20 states that have rejected Obamacare money that would be used to expand Medicaid services. Medicaid is a state-run operation while Medicare is directed by the federal government.
“Right now, you’re closing hospitals. You’re closing medical centers. You’re putting senior citizens out with nowhere to go. People matter. Healthcare matters. We are all precious in God’s sight,” Jackson said.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson speaks to Willis Washington, a candidate for House District 97. (Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report)
Pete Reed, a former director of Oklahoma’s Veterans Affairs under Gov. George Nigh, said the proposed 25 percent cut in Medicaid will “drastically affect not only their lives, but the dependents they love so much. You need to send a message to the legislature.”
A handful of military veterans met with Jackson prior to the news conference to share their stories and the battles they’ve faced with cuts by state agencies.
Meanwhile, Shirley Linville has worked in the developmental disabilities community since 1984 and she expressed concern those with disabilities will have no agency to assist them if the funding cuts are approved.
“How are they going to eat? Where are they going to live?” she asked during comments from the podium. “Twenty-five percent will close most of the agencies. You ask, ‘what is Plan B.’ Plan B is they will be homeless.”
Jackson asked several people to make comments about the different groups which will be affected by the proposed cuts.
State Rep. George Young , D-Oklahoma City, said he was disgusted when the state House passed a bill that cuts the Earned Income Tax Credit refund from going to the poor.
“We are balancing the budget on the backs of the poor,” he shouted. “We are screwing black and poor folks. We’re taking money from mothers who need it for medicines and food. But I do not grieve like those without hope. The hope we have is with this group we have here today and with Jesse Jackson coming here.”
Alyssa Wilson, left, is 27 years old and has been waiting nine years for Medicaid assistance to assist with her disability. (Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report)
State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, urged those at the news conference to call their legislators and the governor on Monday to express their opinions.
“The governor can pick up the phone and say we’ll accept the healthcare money. Show up the Capitol and watch your tax dollars at work,” she said.
Ryan McLaughlin, mother to disabled daughter Lucy, said her child would be dead if the family had not received Medicaid funding.
“People in Oklahoma talk about being pro-life in the womb. What about being pro-life out of the womb. If it was your daughter or granddaughter you would want this, too. Think about sweet little people like this,” she said, pointing to her daughter lying in a stroller. “Do the job you were elected to do.”
Jackson said he’s seen these types of budget problems mostly in southern states where oil and gas resources are plentiful.
“In those areas, you have the richest soil and the poorest people,” he said, adding that state governments in those areas are able to fund highways, airports and prisons, but fail in their duties to provide social services. “It’s a moral disaster. You take the lead in basketball or football. Why not take the lead in helping the poor.”