Capitol Editor’s Notebook: Default hit worse than reported, Steele wants report, Fallin sets election

 Initial impact from a possible U.S. government default (if the federal debt ceiling is not increased by August 2) was understated in earlier estimates provided for a July 20 CapitolBeatOK story, a state official said today

A public affairs-information representative for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority provided clarification of the matter today (Tuesday, July 26).

Carter Kimble wrote: “I’m afraid there was a miscommunication on the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s part with regards to the story. …  In the story it references a dollar amount drawn down from the federal government by the OHCA.”

Last week, CapitolBeatOK reported, “The Oklahoma Health Care Authority receives some $57.5 million every month for SoonerCare and other programs. Providers are paid weekly.”

Kimble said today, “While OHCA does draw down monthly funds for administration of the program (overhead, payroll, etc.), we draw down weekly for program payments (medical services). The $57.5 million is representative of a weekly figure; it is about $230 million, all together, per month.”

Kimble continued, “I apologize for the misunderstanding,” and offered to provide further clarification, if needed. CapitolBeatOK appreciates Mr. Kimble’s explanation, which provides a more complete and accurate picture to our readers.

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 Saying that “Oklahoma is well past the point of being simply ‘concerned’ about DHS,” Speaker of the House Kris Steele today said the Department of Human Services should release a report on the June death of five-year-old Serenity Deal.

Steele said, “DHS needs to make it a top priority to complete and release the findings of its investigation into Serenity’s tragic death. The agency’s duty to explain what happened should not be this complicated and time consuming. It’s time to give Serenity’s family and the public answers. The DHS status quo of excuses and delays is not sufficient.”

The little girl died on June 4, after department officials had put her in the care of her father, even though Serenity had suffered previous injuries while in his care. The man has now been charged with murdering the girl.

A press release from Steele’s office noted DHS had promised to release a report on the case the week of June 18. That report was also not delivered at today’s meeting of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services.

Steele commented further, “Based on the information currently available, it seems likely that Serenity died because of a systematic breakdown. We must find out precisely what happened so we can correct the problem, but we can’t do that until DHS produces its report.”

The Shawnee Republican said, “Child welfare workers have some of the toughest and most important jobs in state government. They do an admirable job under tough conditions every day. It is time for DHS leadership to identify what happened in Serenity’s case so welfare workers can be supported with effective direction and policies in the future.”

Steele’s staff pointed out a report on the girl’s death from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth was finished within 10 days. That document indicated disagreements among DHS officials over the girl’s placement. Fifty-two days has passed without a DHS analysis.

“Oklahoma is well past the point of being simply ‘concerned’ about DHS. Something must change,” Steele said. “If this agency continues to fail to answer tough questions, the public will continue to wonder why DHS leadership seems so intent on dodging accountability. Until we see serious change, I will not hesitate to press for answers and solutions. The public and our most vulnerable citizens deserve nothing less.”

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Governor Mary Fallin has set the general election for the House District 1 seat for Valentine’s Day (Tuesday, February 14, 2011). Candidate filing will be August 22 to August 24. Partisan primaries, if required, will be November 8. That could be the date of the general election if no primaries are required.

The governor had told reporters she planned to set the special election to coincide with the presidential preference primary (March 6, 2012), but her spokesman said she was “inclined” to grant Speaker Steel’e request to fill the vacancy more quickly.