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Tobacco settlement money to fund senior meals, mental health programs

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is giving more than $3 million to help keep state mental health and senior nutrition programs operating in the face of steep budget cuts.

The TSET board of directors voted Tuesday to provide funds through the end of the fiscal year for senior nutrition services at the state Department of Human Services and a mobile mental health crisis program for children through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

TSET is a state grant-making trust that primarily devotes funding to preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, but can also choose to fund programs that help children and seniors.

The board approved $3.08 million in one-time funding for the programs, including:

• $1.81 million grant to help DHS maintain services to 189 senior nutrition meal sites in 77 counties.

• $1.27 million to the mental health department to support mobile crisis response teams that provide behavioral health services to children in crisis across the state.

"For both agencies, this funding will be significant for them to maintain services through the end of the fiscal year," John Woods, TSET executive director, said at the board meeting.

State matching funds to provide senior meal programs were on the chopping block as DHS faces midyear budget reductions.

As part of its initial estimates, DHS said earlier that it would have to cut as many as 30 senior meal sites across the state.

Additional funding from TSET will help many senior food programs in rural parts of the state continue operating, said DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell.

"Many of the rural sites would be facing closure if they lost state money," she said.

During the past fiscal year, senior nutrition programs served more than 1.3 million meals at senior centers and an additional 1.3 million home-delivered meals to Oklahomans.

The mental health services program served 2,711 children last fiscal year responding to calls related to mental health crisis, substance abuse crisis, family crisis and foster care stabilization.

The mental health agency's program helps keep foster children experiencing a mental health crisis out of inpatient psychiatric care and also helps keep them in stable home placements, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, deputy commissioner for recovery and treatment.

The agency would have been forced to cut back its mobile crisis program this year without the money from TSET, Slatton-Hodges said. "This is just such a lifesaver," she told the TSET board.

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›