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This program helps hungry kids and saves administrative costs, but participation lags in Oklahoma

by | April 26th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

school lunch 2Oklahoma is among the worst in the nation for uptake of a program that ensures low-income students have access to school meals, according to a new report. By not adopting this program, schools are passing up an effective way to reduce administrative costs while ensuring that more Oklahoma kids have reliable access to nutritious meals.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. In the 2015-2016 school year, only 15 percent of eligible districts participated in Oklahoma, versus 37 percent nationwide, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Among individual schools that were eligible, 21 percent participated in Oklahoma, less than half the national average of 51 percent.

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Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry

by | April 13th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (10)

One of the most visible consequences of the state’s budget crisis is the increasing number of school districts that are considering or have already gone to a four-day school week. More than 100 districts are considering making the switch, according to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. Shortened school weeks may save cash-strapped school budgets, but they also can create troubling side-effects ranging from the cost to families suddenly in need of child care to unanswered questions about how shorter weeks affect learning. What’s most troubling is that for kids whose most reliable meals come from school, a shortened school week can mean going hungry.

This isn’t a small number of kids. In Oklahoma, nearly two out of every three students – more than 400,000 in total – qualify for a free- or reduced-price school meals. While lunches are the most common meal students get at school, school breakfasts are also important for many kids. In the 2014-2015 school year, 58 percent of Oklahoma students who ate a free- or reduced-price lunch ate a free or reduced-price breakfast, too.

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Yes, non-profits can (and should) lobby

Family in PalmIf you want to know about the stock market, you ask a broker. If you want to know what that weird noise is when you turn on your car, you ask a mechanic. If you want to know how public policy is affecting regular people in Oklahoma, you ask someone who works for a non-profit organization.

Unfortunately, many non-profits remain hesitant about sharing their expertise with lawmakers and the public. They may believe that their non-profit status prohibits them from engaging with the legislative process, or they may simply not know what the rules are so they are hesitant about entering a poorly understood legal grey area.

In fact, non-profits can (and should) lobby. According to the National Council of non-profits, “Federal tax laws already allow every charitable non-profit to engage in some legislative lobbying activities. There are spending limits and technicalities that curb non-profits from spending all of their time and money engaged in legislative lobbying, but knowing your rights ensures your organization’s participation in the public policy process.”

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Private charity is no replacement for the public safety net (Guest post: Chris Moore)

by | February 24th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (4)

Chris Moore is the senior minister at Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ in Tulsa. Chris serves on the boards of JustHope, a non-profit that works to combat extreme poverty, and the Tulsa Sponsoring Committee, a community organizing effort.

Chris Moore

Chris Moore

Having just come through the season of Christmas I have witnessed how, more than any other time of the year, churches gather together to give charity to the poor, to hand out gift boxes and backpacks, serve meals and buy presents for families that can’t afford them during this holiday.  The generosity machine is in fifth gear as communities of Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.  As a pastor, I have figured out two things.  First, this is unsustainable.  Such an outpouring does not last far beyond the holiday season, despite appeals to compassion, faithful practice, or even guilt.  And, second, all of this generosity is a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed.

Hunger is a huge problem in Oklahoma.  The statistics say that 1 in 4 Oklahoma children don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.  Those statistics are equal to the rates of death by cancer in the nation.  No one, of course, suggests that churches should take on the task of dealing with cancer, which is probably because they are not equipped to handle such a crisis.  Neither, I would argue, are they equipped to effectively deal with the crisis of hunger, or poverty or homelessness.

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Stop the introduction of dangerous new high cost loans: Oppose SB 1314

by | February 19th, 2016 | Posted in Advocacy Alerts, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

Update:  Sen. David Holt has indicated that he will not be advancing SB 1314. However, there is still a risk that the bill will be turned over to a new author or that the flex loan proposal will appear in different legislation.

A bill to create a new form of dangerous high-cost loans has been introduced this session and has passed a Senate Committee. SB 1314, authored by Sen. David Holt, would allow for new “flex loans” of up to $3,000 for a 12-month terms with a monthly interest rate of 20 percent. That means that someone taking out a flex loan could pay $600 per month in interest and fees. Loans could be made without any regard to a borrower’s financial situation or their ability to repay the loan, and there is no limit on how many loans a borrower could take at any one time or over the course of a year.

SB 1314 is being pushed by the payday loan industry, which is looking for ways to skirt possible new federal regulations. The bill will next be heard in the full Senate. Please contact your Senator and urge them to reject the introduction of new predatory loans in Oklahoma by voting NO on SB 1314. You can find your legislator by clicking here.

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Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

by | February 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Andrew T. Hocutt is a junior at Rogers State University studying Political Science and Public Administration. He was a 2015 participant in OK Policy’s Summer Policy Institute, and he serves as Chairman for the Rogers State University delegation of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Since 2013, substantive reforms to several state and local minimum wage systems have been implemented across the United States. Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward  and Fight for $15  have steadily been gaining popular support and successfully driving the movement to raise the minimum wage into the political forefront. While the movement has seen notable success in U.S. cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City, other cities and rural areas are having difficulty garnering support behind the idea of the $15 livable wage.

In Oklahoma it has proven especially difficult to achieve a higher minimum wage. In 2014,  Oklahoma legislators  approved SB 1023, immediately and indefinitely ending local-control of minimum wage policies for every city and town in the state. The pretense for this policy was the fear that allowing municipalities to increase the local minimum wage would drive businesses out of communities and possibly even the state.

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The program known as ‘welfare’ barely exists in Oklahoma

by | January 28th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

worried mother and baby

From its creation in 1934 to the mid-1990s, the Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program was a major component of America’s safety net, providing cash assistance to low-income families with children. In 1996, President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress approved reforms to “end welfare as we know it.” AFDC became Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), with much stricter limits on who can receive aid and for how long and much greater leeway for state officials to use federal funds for welfare as they see fit.

Prior to the 1996 welfare reforms, AFDC was an entitlement like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That means any qualifying family who applied could receive benefits, and spending on the program went up and down based on need. Under the new TANF rules, recipients must satisfy a work or training requirement, and they can lose benefits for not meeting these requirements. TANF benefits to families also have a strict time limit — recipients may receive benefits for a maximum of five years over their lifetime, unless they meet limited criteria for a hardship extension.

Another major change with welfare reform is that TANF funds are now provided as block grants to states. Instead of going up and down based on need, the total amount of the basic TANF block grant has remained at $16.5 billion per year since 1996. Due to inflation, its real value has fallen by one-third since that year.

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To improve Oklahoma’s health, we must reduce inequality (Guest Post: Candace Smith)

by | January 20th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Candace Smith

Candace Smith

Candace Smith is an OK Policy Research Fellow and a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Norman Campus. She is also a research assistant at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Planning, Research and Statistics.

Chronic diseases create significant quality of life challenges to patients and families, are expensive to treat, and occur with uncomfortable frequency in Oklahoma. Given our state’s poor overall health rankings, it comes as no surprise that we have some of the highest occurrences of chronic disease in the nation. Evidence shows that social inequalities drive these troubling diseases. It is abundantly clear that improving Oklahoman’s health requires reducing inequality.

A chronic disease is a health condition that lasts at least twelve months, requires ongoing medical attention, and/or limits an individual’s daily activities. They may be brought on or worsened by certain activities or behaviors: for instance, smoking commonly triggers emphysema, and unhealthy eating can cause diabetes. Although the prevalence of chronic disease is increasing around the country, the situation is especially bad in Oklahoma. Compared to both the nation and to nearby states like Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas, Oklahoma performs poorly on most chronic disease indicators.

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Child care is getting less accessible for Oklahoma’s working parents

For many working Oklahoma families, child care is both an absolute requirement and a significant expense. The cost of child care can easily match or even surpass that of college tuition. Low-income families can catch a break through child care subsidies, which pay part or all of a child’s care expenses while parents are at work, at school, or receiving training. However, participation in the subsidy program has dropped off by more than 30 percent in the last 13 years, from nearly 49,000 children in 2004 to just 31,525 in 2015.

The need for child care certainly hasn’t decreased, so what’s driving the change? The answer seems to boil down to a range of contributing factors, including cost to families, the changing nature of work, provider participation, and demographic shifts. But one thing that probably isn’t a factor is more children enrolling in preschool instead of child care. Here’s what we found:

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What a difference a mile makes (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).

man-person-school-headWilliam is a 7th grader who attends a suburban middle school. His school has well-equipped classrooms staffed by certified teachers. Every child has the appropriate textbooks and school supplies. The majority of the children at this school work at or above grade level; they scored well above the state average on standardized tests. Plenty of extra help is available for those who need it. The school received an 8/10 rating on the site and a B on the OK state school report card. William is hoping for a basketball scholarship to OU or maybe an out of state college. It’s likely that William will graduate high school, like 95 percent of the students who attend his school (10 percent higher than the state’s average).

“Sure I’m going to college. Almost everybody here is planning to go to college,” William reports.

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