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At Oklahoma City rally, Jesse Jackson calls for protests against cuts in services

During an Oklahoma City visit Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for “a day for massive action” in response to proposed cuts to state services such as education, mental health programs and Medicaid. The civil rights leader spoke with a number of groups at the law firm of David Slane and Associates during the afternoon and later addressed a gathering on the law firm's lawn.

Flanked by lawmakers, health care workers and others, Jackson said Oklahoma is trying to balance its budget at the expense of the poor, children, the elderly and other vulnerable Oklahomans. “How we treat them is a measure of our character,” he said.

Jackson said he was concerned about possible cuts to SoonerCare, the state's Medicaid program. Earlier this year, Nico Gomez, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, proposed a 25 percent cut to provider rates. Officials said the rate cut would affect more than 46,000 SoonerCare providers who give care to thousands of low-income Oklahomans.

The agency is proposing cuts in response to a looming state budget crisis. Officials anticipate drastic cuts to the agency's state appropriation for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1. During a meeting Monday, the agency's board agreed to table the matter. It likely will be taken up again at a June meeting.

Before Sunday's rally, more than 100 people gathered on the law firm's lawn. Some held signs protesting cuts to Medicaid funding. Others wore stickers saying “Don't cut me.”

Waiting for 9 years

Among the crowd were Janet Wilson and her daughter, Alyssa Wilson. Alyssa Wilson, 27, has a condition called Phelan-McDermid syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause diminished intellectual function, delayed motor function and epilepsy.

When Alyssa turned 18, she was placed on a waiting list for services, Wilson said. Their family has been waiting for nine years, she said. Wilson encouraged lawmakers who question the gravity of her family's situation to “spend a day in my shoes. I just want to have a safe future for my child,” Wilson said.

Mary Katherine Long, area director for the health care provider Bios Corp., brought several staff members and patients to the rally. Bios works with developmentally disabled adults, many of whom have few places to turn for services. With cuts to Medicaid, those options would become even fewer, Long said.

Bios already has begun turning away people who come to the organization for help. Friday, Bios had to deny care to a family that desperately needed it, she said. “I frankly don't know what they're going to do,” she said.

At the rally, Jackson urged those in attendance to make their voices heard. He called for “a day for massive action in Oklahoma and across the South” to protest what he called the violation of veterans, the sick, elderly and poor. “It's time to march. Time to go back to the streets,” he said. “What makes America great is the right to fight for the right.”

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›

Darla Slipke

Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›