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Claims that SQ 777 will boost food security are hard to swallow


Photo by Yes On 777 campaign.

Note: This is an expanded and revised version of a column that appeared in the Journal Record.

Vote Yes on State Question 777 or else more Oklahoma children and seniors will go hungry?

That’s the highly misleading message that supporters of the so-called Right to Farm amendment are asking Oklahoma voters to swallow.

The campaign for this amendment is being sponsored primarily by the Farm Bureau and other major agribusiness associations. If approved in November, SQ 777 would entrench in the state Constitution the right to engage in far-ranging agricultural practices. The Oklahoma Legislature and local governments would not be allowed to make any new laws regulating the use of agricultural technology, livestock procedures, or ranching practices unless they could be shown to serve a “compelling state  interest” and meet a legal standard of “strict scrutiny.”

Strict scrutiny is the very highest level of constitutional restriction — one that’s currently reserved for laws that discriminate on the basis of race or deprive people of fundamental rights like free speech, gun ownership, or freedom of religion.

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SNAP is working to feed Oklahoma’s Children

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma families are able to put enough food on the table because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But research increasingly shows that it accomplishes much more than that.

Growing up in poverty is shown to have serious, long-term effects on children — especially during the earliest years of a child’s life. Unfortunately, already-high poverty rates in Oklahoma are highest among Oklahoma children. Parents of young children tend to earn less because they are early in their careers, and because child care has become increasingly unaffordable, they often must leave a job or cut back on their hours to care for their kids.

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New Census data shows Oklahoma improves on poverty and uninsured rates but still lags behind nation

by | September 15th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

New Census data shows Oklahoma made some progress in reducing the percentage of families living in poverty in 2015. In 2014, nearly one out of six Oklahomans (16.6 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,000 a year for a family of four) before taxes. In 2015, about 13,000 fewer Oklahomans were living below the poverty line, dropping our state’s poverty rate to 16.1 percent.

The official poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell even more, from 15.5 percent in 2014 to 14.7 percent in 2015. These improvements widened the gap between the percentage of Oklahomans and the percentage of all Americans living in poverty.


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At the intersection of hunger and health (Guest Post: Effie Craven)

by | September 6th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Effie Craven serves as the State Advocacy and Public Policy Director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, where she advocates for programs and policies that promote access to nutritious foods and economic security for all Oklahomans.

Photo by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Photo by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

In the food banking world, we frequently measure need in terms of “food insecurity.” Food insecurity is an economic condition describing a lack of adequate access to affordable, nutritious food. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, there are more than 650,000 food insecure people in Oklahoma — about 1 in 6 Oklahomans. At the same time, rates of chronic disease like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease remain high, and Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest obesity rates in the nation.

Chronic disease and food insecurity are intricately linked and often lead to a vicious cycle. As limited income is stretched further by an illness and families are forced to make difficult choices, food is often the only part of a budget with any flexibility. Because healthy food is typically more expensive and has a shorter shelf-life than processed foods, families may opt for cheaper, longer-lasting but nutrition-deficient foods.

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New research finds Tulsa Head Start program produces lasting gains (Guest Blog: Deborah Phillips and William Gormley)

by | September 1st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Deborah Phillips is Professor of Psychology and William Gormley is Professor of Government and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Their Tulsa-based research on early childhood education has appeared in the top scientific journals in their fields, in national media outlets, and was mentioned in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address.

In an era of high expectations of preschool education, new research finds that the Head Start program operated by Tulsa’s Community Action Program (CAP) has risen to the challenge.

Since the early 2000s, we have been following children who participate in Tulsa CAP Head Start and Tulsa Public School pre-K programs. We found that positive initial effects of the program on participants’ readiness for kindergarten persist into middle school in the form of higher math achievement test scores, less grade retention, and less chronic absenteeism as compared to children of the same age and backgrounds who did not participate in CAP Head start or in the Tulsa Public Schools pre-K program in 2005-06 when the study began. These results were strongest for girls, white and Hispanic children, and English Language Learners.

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Celebrating big progress toward hunger-free schools

Late this summer, just as parents started to wonder precisely where they’d put that school supplies list, Tulsa Public Schools announced that all elementary schools in the district would serve free breakfast and lunch to all students in the coming school year. Tulsa is able to provide these meals using federal funding through the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP

This is great news for Tulsa Public Schools and kids. Community Eligibility Provision drives down administrative burdens, better equips kids to learn, and ends the stigma sometimes attached to free school meals. Participation has so far been very low in Oklahoma, but bringing in TPS’s 24,000 elementary students will increase the number of students participating in Oklahoma in the 2016-2017 school year by more than one-third, from 66,000 to 90,000.

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Why is Oklahoma worst in the nation for feeding hungry kids in summer?

Tara Grigson is an OK Policy intern. She is a psychology and Spanish major at the University of Tulsa and previously worked as a Mission Impact Intern at YWCA Tulsa.

school lunchOklahoma is nearly the worst in the nation for food insecurity: approximately 1 in 4 Oklahoma children do not have consistent access to nutritious food in their homes for any number or combination of reasons, from low family incomes to living in food deserts with inadequate transportation. During the school year, the USDA’s school meals program help make sure these kids have access to affordable, nutritious food. In the 2014-2015 school year, nearly 300,000 Oklahoma children enrolled in public schools relied on school-provided lunches during the school year. However, when school lets out for summer, family paychecks don’t expand to accommodate up to 10 meals per child per week, leaving too many children hungry.

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Confront the ‘parasite economy’ by raising the minimum wage

by | July 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Every three months, the ADP Research Institute releases its Workforce Vitality Index, a measure of private sector job and wage growth.  For the past two quarters, Washington state has led the nation in growing jobs and boosting wages, far outpacing the national average and such states as Texas, Florida, and California.

Why does this matter?   Because Washington state has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation at $9.47 an hour. And since April 2015, the city of Seattle has been moving towards a $15 minimum wage, with the current minimum ranging from $10.50 to $13 depending on employer size.  As the Workforce Vitality Index shows, businesses in Seattle and Washington state are thriving and generating more employment. Seattle’s restaurant industry — which fought the wage laws fiercely — is continuing to add jobs.

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Income inequality in Oklahoma has declined but there’s more work to be done

by | July 20th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Income inequality between people conceptKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released an updated report on income inequality in the U.S. by state, and the data shows improvements in Oklahoma. In 2012, income inequality in Oklahoma reached a historic high. The bottom 99 percent of Oklahomans were earning an average income of $41,995, while the top 1 percent were earning $1,105,521, which was 26 times greater. Overall, in 2012, Oklahoma ranked 12th highest in the nation for income inequality.  

However, Oklahoma’s income inequality gap narrowed in 2013 (the year of most recent data). To be considered part of the top 1 percent in 2013 in Oklahoma, an individual needed to make an income of at least $324,935. The average income of the bottom 99 percent rose nearly $3,000 to $44,849 and fell for the top 1 percent to $903,201, which is still 20.7 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. That’s a little more equal than overall in the U.S., where the average income of the top 1 percent was 25.3 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. Consequently, Oklahoma’s national rank improved from 12th to 15th most unequal.

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Frozen child care subsidy thaws, but remains on thin ice

by | July 11th, 2016 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

girl in skates sit on ice rink after fallIn welcome news for working families, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) announced at the end of June that it would lift the freeze on child care subsidy enrollment by August 1. In any given month, more than 30,000 Oklahoma kids get child care through the subsidy program; it’s a crucial support for these children and working parents. It’s good that the freeze has been thawed – but that a freeze was necessary highlights how Oklahoma’s revenue gaps directly harm working families.

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