Protecting Oklahoma’s most vulnerable infants (Guest Post: Cassidy Hamilton)

by | January 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

CassidyHamiltonCassidy Hamilton is one of four 2014-2015 OK Policy Research Fellows. Cassidy graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Oklahoma. She works as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Norman where she coordinates a tutoring program for at-risk students. Cassidy is interested in health and housing policy, economic development, community lending in low-income areas, and the interconnectedness of fiscal and monetary policy.

Infant mortality is the death of a child under one year of age, and the infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of those deaths per every 1,000 births (see chart below). According to the CDC, the IMR is an important measure because the mortality of a population’s infants can be indicative of broader factors affecting the health and well-being of the population at large. Beyond its importance as a public health measure, for families of babies who die before they reach their first birthday, infant mortality is an immeasurable personal tragedy.

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The ‘work requirement’ that wasn’t

by | December 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Welfare as it exists in the minds of many Americans bears little resemblance to welfare as it exists in reality. The nation’s ‘welfare’ cash assistance program was functionally dismantled in the mid-1990s, but especially in Oklahoma, leaders still lean heavily on the specter of nanny state budget bloat and the work-shy freeloader. Even some twenty years after welfare was gutted, most voters either don’t know that the program was essentially eliminated or they have long since forgotten. This has made it easy for ambitious politicians to campaign on an ‘anti-welfare’ agenda while their actual proposals receive little scrutiny.

STATE OF THE STATEOklahoma legislators recently targeted a nutrition assistance program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly food stamps, citing a disdain for ‘welfare’ and a commitment to the value of hard work. Oklahoma’s former House Speaker T.W. Shannon introduced HB 1909 in 2013 with a familiar refrain:

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What a profitable Postal Service looks like (Part Two)

by | November 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)
Postal Trucks

Photo by Ron Doke.

We already know from Part One in this series that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has a long history and excellent record of administering financial services, which up until now has been limited to savings products. But a new report from the Office of the Inspector General at USPS makes a convincing argument that your local post office is actually well-suited to offer a suite of financial products and services, not just savings bonds and accounts.

Table 1 below details the potential services that are feasible using existing postal service infrastructure, but it is not exhaustive. In addition to transactional services like bill payment and check cashing, USPS could partner with banks and credit unions to offer affordable credit options, like small dollar alternatives to payday loans.

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How to strengthen nutrition and health for Women, Infants & Children (Guest Post: Monica Barczak)

by | October 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)
Photo by Bev Sykes

Photo by Bev Sykes

Monica Barczak is Director of Innovation Lab at CAP Tulsa, where she leads a small team responsible for a variety of research and program design and improvement efforts.

A child’s successful growth and development depends on many factors, including good nutrition and health from the pre-natal period through the earliest months and years of life. Unfortunately, too many Oklahoma children lack sufficient nutrition, hampering their readiness for school and learning and triggering other health issues ranging from obesity to infections to increased risk of social-emotional problems.

While the private sector and faith-based community play a significant role in alleviating hunger in Oklahoma, such services tend to limit the number of times families can access help. But pregnant women and young children in particular need a consistent source of adequate nutrition to ensure healthy development. Federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are invaluable in filling the gap. So it is critical that such programs are designed to make the most impact for clients while operating in the most effective and efficient way. While WIC generally receives high marks among users, improvements could be made to help clients take full advantage of the program benefits.

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No Exit: The School-to-Prison pipeline (Neglected Oklahoma)


Graphic courtesy of Rethinking Schools (

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).

Kyron Dean perches uncomfortably on a sofa in his grandmother’s home in Del City. “Still trying to get used to being free,” he says. He was released from prison two weeks before we met, after serving 30 months for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

“He was always a good boy. Polite,” his grandmother says. “He was raised to be respectful.” So how did he end up in prison? “It’s like they greased the chute. Back when he was in the 9th grade, Kyron got into a fight. Boys fight. Always have. No guns, no knives, just two boys tussling. Next thing I know he is locked up. That’s just crazy! It’s wrong.”

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Homelessness in the Long Run: Why Oklahoma needs long-term solutions

by | August 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This post was written by OK Policy summer intern Tyler Parette, a political science major at Oklahoma Christian University. Tyler will be studying international relations at the University of Oxford this fall.

“Did that man bother you?” asked the woman as  I was standing in line to get my morning coffee.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“That man has been sitting outside asking people for money. Did he try to assault you?”

This question caught me off guard. It’s not every day that I am asked if I have been assaulted.

“No, he told me he was a veteran and I asked what branch he served in. He said Navy, so I asked what ship he served on and then he quit talking with me.”

Seemingly uninterested in the conversation that I had with the apparently homeless man outside the coffee shop, the woman walked back over to her table. Minutes later, she jumps up from her table and darts out the door to intercept another woman who was about to give the man outside some change.

“Do not give him anything! You,” pointing at the man, “Go away!”

Everyone in the coffee shop watches as the woman saunters back through the front door. She marches up to the counter and demands that something must be done about the man pestering people on the sidewalk.

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Oh SNAP: Food assistance program errors at record low

by | July 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Photo by Bruce Tuten used under a Creative Commons license

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP for short, sometimes referred to as food stamps) is a lifeline in Oklahoma, providing food assistance to nearly one in six Oklahomans. Now a new report shows that the error rate for SNAP is at a record low. This report also means that virtually all Oklahomans receiving SNAP benefits qualify for them honestly — another reminder that Oklahoma’s economic prosperity is leaving many behind.

New data from the USDA shows that SNAP’s error rates are at an all-time low, after seven consecutive years of decreasing error rates. Overall, the national overpayment rate is now at 2.6 percent, and the underpayment rate at 0.6 percent, for a combined error rate of 3.2 percent.

Oklahoma didn’t achieve quite the same level of success, but the picture is still encouraging: its combined error rate of 3.99 percent places it cleanly in the middle of pack (26th). Its ranking for overpayment errors (3.11 percent) was the same. However, Oklahoma’s underpayment rate — that is, the rate of people erroneously denied some or all of their benefits — was higher. At 0.88 percent, Oklahoma has the 13th highest underpayment rate in the nation, indicating that SNAP administrators in Oklahoma are erring on the side of caution more than their counterparts in other states when evaluating applicants for benefits.

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Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition: Building self-sufficiency and prosperity (Guest Post: Christy Finsel)

by | July 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

ONACChristy Finsel is an enrolled tribal member of the Osage Nation and the Coordinator of the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition.  She has been engaged in asset building research and program design and implementation since 2003. 

Oklahoma is home to thirty-nine federally recognized tribes and their citizens.  Through Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, tribes and Native non-profits are administering innovative Native asset building programs such as financial education, credit builder workshops, Voluntary Income Tax Assistance sites, and entrepreneurship training programs.  Our partners also offer homeownership assistance and foreclosure prevention, emergency savings programs, matched savings accounts, and children’s savings account programs.  

History and Mission of ONAC


ONAC staff and leadership team

Since 2007, the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, known as ONAC, has represented a consortium of Oklahoma tribes and partners interested in establishing asset-building initiatives and programs in Native communities.  ONAC has been coordinated and led by Native asset building practitioners.  The mission of our coalition is to build and support a network of Oklahoma Native people who are dedicated to increasing self-sufficiency and prosperity in their communities through the establishment of comprehensive financial education initiatives, Individual Development Accounts, and other asset-building strategies.  While we believe that individual assets are important, we also are interested in simultaneously building family and community assets.

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Read This: The Bluest Eye

the bluest eye

On the state Senate floor in the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as part of his effort to derail Common Core in Oklahoma. Ignoring that Common Core doesn’t require any schools to read The Bluest Eye (the books listed are suggestions), Sen. Brecheen’s use of The Bluest Eye indicates not only fundamental misunderstanding of the work but also precisely why Oklahomans ought to read it. Its frank portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and racism, still all too common in Oklahoma, helps readers to empathize with those affected by oppression. By giving them the tools to understand the world around them, The Bluest Eye equips readers to change that world.

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We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

by | April 10th, 2014 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This post is by OK Policy intern Haley Stritzel. Haley is a University of Tulsa student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies.

In his budget plan for next year, President Obama has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to improve and strengthen the tax credit. Adopting these proposals would be a sensible move to reduce poverty while bolstering the economy.

The EITC benefits low and moderate-income families by offsetting federal payroll and income taxes. This tax credit is refundable, meaning that if the credit exceeds how much a worker owes, the worker will receive the leftover credit as a tax refund. The size of the tax credit depends on marital status, number of dependent children, and annual income. It increases with annual income up to a maximum level, about $37,900 to $51,600 for families with children, and then phases out at higher income levels. The average EITC benefit for families with children was $2,905 in 2011.

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