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Fact sheet: Hunger in Oklahoma

by | November 24th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

The holiday season is a time when many of use will share feasts with our loved ones. Yet hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma still don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Not having enough to eat impacts Oklahomans of all ages, but it especially affects children. In addition, thousands of Oklahomans rely on the food security safety net, including SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other programs. 

About 654,640 Oklahomans are food-insecure.

This 2013 statistic means that a large number of Oklahomans don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Oklahomans are more likely to be food-insecure than most Americans. Our state outpaces the national average for both low food security and very low food security.

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Song for my father (Neglected Oklahoma)

Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Head east on I-40. Go past Midwest City and Tinker, out to where the hills roll down to creeks lined with trees and the land is green. Get off at the Prague exit and follow the signs to Boley. Stop by the Dairy Queen. Five miles out of town, turn right down a long gravel road and park near the barn. Give your dad a hug and unload the groceries you brought.

Your dad smiles. You’ve been his lifeline for years now. Social Security barely covers utilities, medicine and doctor visits. Your dad made a good living as an auto mechanic but he has no pension and his savings are about gone, eaten up by your mom’s medical  expenses before she passed. SNAP benefits help but the end of the month, when food stamps are gone, is always lean.

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We’re asking the wrong question (Guest post: Abby J. Leibman)

by | November 16th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

bread lineAbby J. Leibman is President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. MAZON helps to fund OK Policy’s policy work around hunger and food security. This article was previously published at

Most of our response to hunger in America is wrong. The programs and policies we employ are, by and large, misdirected, misguided and missing the mark entirely. That shameful fact is the result of one simple problem: When we ask the wrong question, the answer is inevitably wrong, too.

The question we ask routinely is “How do we manage hunger in America?”

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Too many of Oklahoma’s military families are food insecure

by | November 11th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Elizabeth Armstrong is an OK Policy Intern and former military spouse. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant. Her free time is spent playing with her daughter.

Despite the stigma often attached to food assistance, a large majority of the recipients are not lazy or jobless. According to a report by Feeding America, approximately 654,640 Oklahomans are food insecure. They include some of the hardest-working individuals in this nation, including military service members willing to die for our country.

Did you know that about 1 out of every 4 active duty military families receive SNAP (food stamp) assistance? With 21,913 active duty military currently in Oklahoma, that amounts to about 5,000 active service members relying on SNAP to feed their families. In addition, approximately 26,300 Oklahoma veterans received SNAP assistance in 2014, an increase of 1,700 recipients from 2013. Together, military families (those with at least one service member or veteran) make up approximately 20 percent of all food insecure families served by the Feeding America Network.

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Another school meals success story

by | October 28th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Late this summer, we shared information about new mechanism allowing some high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge for all students. Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It was successfully piloted in 11 states before opening nationwide for the 2014-15 school year. Oklahoma’s uptake for the first year was relatively low – just 12 percent of eligible schools participated, versus 42 percent nationwide. However, there’s reason to believe that participation may be trending upward.

Preliminary data suggests that the number of Oklahoma schools participating in the CEP has nearly doubled for the 2015-16 school year. Chickasha Public Schools is part of that second wave. Zelly Durbin, the Child Nutrition Leader at Chickasha Public Schools, first heard about the CEP from the state Department of Education, and then learned more at a food service management conference in Mississippi. Durbin said that Chickasha Public Schools elected the CEP because they wanted as many students as possible to be able to eat without worrying about the cost.

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Why the wealth of college-educated minorities is especially vulnerable (Guest post: Ryan Gentzler)

by | October 13th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Ryan Gentzler is a Research Associate at the Early Childhood Education Institute at OU-Tulsa and a former OK Policy Research Fellow.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently issued a report that highlighted the effect of higher education on wealth protection during times of economic difficulty. The report found that white and Asian families headed by a four-year college graduate maintained their wealth better than their counterparts without a college degree, but black and Hispanic families headed by someone with a college degree did significantly worse than those without degrees, losing more of their wealth during the Great Recession.

Figure 1 shows these changes. The authors speculate that this is due, at least partially, to “job-market difficulties specific to Hispanic and black college graduates” and “financial decision-making” by those groups. The term “financial decision-making” as the authors use it, however, is deeply misleading, because it suggests that these minorities simply made bad choices about how to spend their money.

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OKC panhandling ordinance part of a disturbing trend of criminalizing poverty

by | September 29th, 2015 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (6)

[Update: During public comments on the ordinance, a large majority of those speaking said that passing it would be a mistake. A final vote is still scheduled for Oct. 13.]

Today the Oklahoma City Council is holding a public hearing on an amendment to the city’s panhandling ordinance that would make it illegal to stand or walk in the median for the purpose of panhandling or collecting charitable contributions. A final hearing on the amendment is set for Tuesday, October 13th. Councilwoman Meg Salyer, who introduced the amendment, told The Oklahoman that she receives complaints “in the multiples every day” about panhandlers. The amendment would make panhandling from the median a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

The amendment received pushback from other councilors when it was introduced last Tuesday. Councilman Ed Shadid said panhandling is evidence that the city has failed to invest in services to help those who find themselves out on the street. Councilman Pete White said in the meeting, “The other thing I’m concerned about is the number of social service agencies I heard from, not one of them said this is a good idea… All across the map they all said this is not a good idea.”

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New Census data shows Oklahoma continues to trail nation in fighting poverty and covering uninsured

by | September 17th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Photo by Dorothea Lange / CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Dorothea Lange / CC BY-SA 2.0

New Census data shows Oklahoma made little progress in reducing the percentage of families living in poverty in 2014. In that year, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.6 percent) were making less than the poverty line of $24,000 a year for a family of four. Changes in Oklahoma’s poverty rate were statistically insignificant compared to 2013. Poverty rates for the United States as a whole did show a small but significant decrease, dropping from 15.8 percent to 15.5 percent.

Last year was another in which Oklahoma consistently saw lower unemployment rates than the nation as a whole, but still experienced higher poverty rates. It’s clear that Oklahomans aren’t rising out of poverty, not because they aren’t working hard, but because too many jobs don’t pay a living wage.

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Community Eligibility Provision can help make Oklahoma schools hunger-free

by | August 25th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Despite Oklahoma’s prosperity, too many children go without access to regular, healthy food. State food banks continue to report giving away record amounts of food, and the state’s SNAP enrollment has not significantly declined since spiking in 2010. More than 400,000 Oklahoma students receive free or reduced-cost lunches, and many of them get breakfast at school as well. This firmly establishes the important role schools play in fighting hunger. A new school meals program may better-equip some schools to fight hunger and keep down costs.

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New savings initiatives will boost financial security for Oklahoma’s Native Americans

ONAC_Circle_logoRecently, the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC) announced a pair of exciting new initiatives for Native American families in Oklahoma. Supported by a $200,000 grant from the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation, both initiatives aim to support savings as a way to promote family financial security and opportunity.

For families and individuals, savings are a basic cornerstone of financial well-being. Having savings to draw upon cushions the impact of temporary financial disruptions like the loss of a job or a medical emergency, serving as a private safety net that can avert a crisis and reduce reliance on public programs.

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