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All articles by David Blatt

Happy birthday, Medicare and Medicaid!

by | July 30th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

LBJ signing

President Johnson signing the legislation creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs, July 31, 1965

This is an edited and expanded version of a column that ran in the Journal Record.

Until a half-century ago, if you were elderly, poor, or living with a disability in America, chances are you were without health insurance and couldn’t get the medical care you needed. Thanks to Medicare and Medicaid, two landmark public initiatives that were signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson fifty years ago this month, the health and financial security of nearly one in three Americans has forever been improved.

Medicare, which covers almost all seniors and younger people with serious disabilities, pays for a wide range of preventive services, as well as hospital stays, prescription drugs, and critical medical supplies. Before Medicare, almost half of all Americans 65 and older were without health insurance. Today it’s only 2 percent. Between 1970 and 2010, Medicare contributed to a five-year increase in life expectancy at age 65 by providing early access to needed medical care. Medicare recipients are also less likely to miss needed care or have unmanageable medical bills than working-age adults with insurance, as a recent New York Times editorial noted.

Medicaid, the other program signed into law by President Johnson in July 1965,  may forever be Medicare’s less renowned and beloved sibling, but it is an equally important part of the health care safety net. Medicaid provides comprehensive medical coverage primarily to low-income children and pregnant women, while covering premiums, deductibles, and additional services such as long-term care for low-income seniors and people with disabilities who also receive Medicare.

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We’re hiring!

by | July 28th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)


OK Policy is seeking an experienced and effective policy analyst to lead our work on economic issues affecting low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. Click here to see the full job description and for information on how to apply.

The policy analyst will conduct research and analysis on state policy issues, with a particular focus on economic opportunity, financial security, inequality, and disparities. Primary responsibilities will also include directing the Oklahoma Assets Network, a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations led by OK Policy working to build stronger financial foundations for all Oklahomans.

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Please don’t feed the stereotypes

by | July 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This is an expanded and revised version of an op-ed that ran in The Oklahoman.

The Oklahoma Republican Party recently ignited a local and national firestorm with a Facebook post pointing out a so-called irony of signs in national parks warning that feeding animals can create dependence on handouts at a time when a growing number of Americans are receiving federal food stamp benefits.

The post, which was later deleted, displayed a callous and mistaken understanding of the food stamp program and the people it serves. The program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is among the most effective ways that the United States helps hard-pressed families to stay afloat and ensure they can afford enough to eat.

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Overtime update is long overdue

by | July 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

An earlier version of this post appeared in the Journal Record

overtime work

Photo by Tom McNemar

For a long time now, hardworking, middle-class Americans have seen their wages stagnate, while the benefits of economic growth go mostly to the wealthiest. One reason for this trend is the erosion of hard-fought labor standards, such as the minimum wage and overtime protections.

Recently, the Obama Administration proposed a new rule aimed at restoring overtime pay for millions of Americans by raising the income threshold under which all salaried workers are eligible for overtime.

The requirement that most employees who work more than forty hours a week be paid at least time-and-a-half their regular rate of pay goes back to the Fair Labor Standards Act enacted by Congress during the Roosevelt Administration in 1938. As economists Jared Bernstein and Ross Eisenbrey explain in a brief that helped shape the Administration’s proposed rule, “The right to a limited workweek provides time for leisure, civic participation, commuting, self-improvement, and tending to family and work.”

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Understanding Oklahoma’s new tax rates on oil and gas production

by | June 30th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

With the start of the new fiscal year tomorrow (July 1), many new laws are set to take effect. Perhaps the most consequential new law is one passed last session, HB 2562, which extended and made permanent tax breaks for the state’s oil and gas producers.

Under current law, the standard tax on gross production is 7 percent. However, over the years the Legislature has enacted a series of exemptions that lower the tax rate for various forms of production, including enhanced recovery projects, inactive wells, new discovery wells, and 3-dimensional seismic shoots. The most significant of these exemptions is for horizontally-drilled wells, which are taxed at just 1 percent for the first 48 months of production. As the lion’s share of new oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma has shifted from vertical to horizontal production over the past decade, the cost of the horizontal tax break has ballooned to $282 million in FY 2014 from just $2 million in FY 2004. The cost in FY 2015 was projected at $379 million by the Tax Commission in December.

continue reading Understanding Oklahoma’s new tax rates on oil and gas production

Our new Director of Operations and Development

by | June 29th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

Shiloh KantzOklahoma Policy Institute is very pleased to announce that Shiloh Kantz has been promoted to the position of Director of Operations and Development effective June 1, 2015.

In the newly-created position, Kantz’s responsibilities include financial management, fundraising and development, event coordination, strategic initiatives, and human resources. She is also coordinating the Summer Policy Institute, an annual program that brings 60 students from across the state to Tulsa in August for a four-day training in state policy issues.

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Taking a little off the top

by | June 24th, 2015 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

This past session, as Oklahoma grappled with a $611 million budget shortfall, a lot was heard about off-the-top apportionments, or tax revenues that are allocated directly to various funds without legislative appropriation. In this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Fallin contended that the reason Oklahoma currently faces substantial budget challenges “is because the General Revenue Fund… is growing smaller. It is shrinking, both in dollars and as a percentage of overall collections, due to the increasing cost of mandatory off-the-top apportionments.”

As state leaders worked to bridge the budget gap, they considered various proposals to curb off-the-top allocations. Ultimately, only modest changes were adopted directing more revenue to the General Revenue Fund, and it remains unlikely that shuffling more money around can ever by itself fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems.

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Budget challenge asks, “What part of ‘nothing but appropriations’ do you not understand?”

by | June 15th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

Jerry Fent

Jerry Fent

Early in May, former State Representative Mike Reynolds, represented by Oklahoma City attorneys Jerry Fent and Ted Pool, filed a lawsuit against Governor Mary Fallin and other officeholders on behalf of the taxpayers of Oklahoma. The suit challenges how the state carries out one of its primary budget responsibilities – the writing of the annual General Appropriations (GA) bill that provides over $7 billion in annual funding to some 70 state agencies.The lawsuit called on the District Court to strike down the GA bills from the last three years. Its timing was also clearly intended to warn  lawmakers then developing the FY 2016 budget to change their ways or risk having this budget overturned – a warning that went largely unheeded.

continue reading Budget challenge asks, “What part of ‘nothing but appropriations’ do you not understand?”

Flat funding still means cuts for Oklahoma’s core services

by | June 9th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Healthcare | Comments (0)

In crafting a budget in the face of a large drop in available revenue, lawmakers this year made a sincere effort to minimize cuts to key agencies in the areas of education, health, and safety. Whereas most agencies took cuts of 0.25 to 7 percent, the Department of Education received flat funding, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Corrections, Department of Human Services and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services received modest funding increases.

Yet even these agencies weren’t funded enough to keep up existing services when faced with growing caseloads and enrollment, rising costs, reduced funding from other sources, and other factors. As a result, most will need to make cuts to next year’s budget.

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An easier target

by | June 1st, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

Wind farm near Weatherford, OK. Photo by Travel Aficionado used under a Creative Commons license.

Wind farm near Weatherford, OK. Photo by Travel Aficionado used under a Creative Commons license.

An earlier version of this post appeared as a column in the Journal Record.

One day when I was in junior high, some friends and I came across a schoolyard fight between two of our classmates. A number of children were taunting one of the combatants, Bobby, and I must confess that I joined in the name-calling. After losing the scrap, an incensed Bobby looked around at those who’d been mocking him from the sidelines. Though not blameless, I had not been the loudest taunter in the crowd, or the cruelest – but I was one of the smallest. Bobby came charging over and socked me hard.

I was reminded of this incident by the Legislature’s actions this session regarding  tax breaks for the wind-power industry.

continue reading An easier target

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