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Bill to expand eligibility for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships would be a win for all Oklahomans

The Oklahoma Legislature is close to passing a bill (SB 529) to make Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships available to more students. Available since 1996, these scholarships cover the cost of tuition for in-state students at an Oklahoma public college or university if students complete a series of college-readiness requirements before high school graduation and maintain a passing GPA once in college.

Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships have become a critical part of college planning for low and moderate income Oklahoma families as they are guaranteed to students who meet the income guidelines and complete the requirements.  Expanding access to the program is necessary if Oklahoma wants to compete in the new economy where most high-paying jobs require advanced education.

Currently, students are eligible for the scholarship if their family’s income is below $50,000 at the time they apply.  SB 529 would raise the income limit to $55,000 in 2017-2018 and then to $60,000 in 2021-2022.  SB 529 has passed both the House and Senate, but the Senate still needs to approve House amendments or work out the language in conference committee. The bill is close to the finish line, which is good news for college-bound students and for the whole state.

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HB 1270 adds bureaucratic hurdles for Oklahoma families and won’t generate promised savings

Earlier this spring, we warned that HB 1270 would grow administrative waste and punish poor families by requiring substantially more rigorous and more frequent verification procedures for families applying for SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid (SoonerCare). Following public outcry, HB 1270 has been pared back to only apply to SoonerCare, with a provision excepting some individuals with significant disabilities. However, HB 1270 is still an expensive, unnecessary bill that would put access to basic health care for Oklahoma families at risk. Here’s how.

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What happened to my refund?

It’s tax time again, and if you are one of the more than 300,000 Oklahoma households that claim the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) you may have noticed that your tax refund is lower than it was last year, even if there was no change in your income. That’s because the Oklahoma Legislature slashed the state EITC to help close last year’s budget hole. The state EITC is no longer refundable in Oklahoma, so most people who qualify for the credit will no longer get the full benefit.

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Oklahoma school meals programs bring new strategies to fight child hunger

Maggie Den Harder is an intern with Oklahoma Policy Institute and a Masters of Public Administration student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

In Oklahoma school meal programs are vital to helping children who are food insecure get reliable access to nutritious meals. Schools offer breakfast and lunch as a matter of course, but some districts are going a step further and providing after-school meals. In Oklahoma City Public Schools, Capitol Hill High School is testing a pilot program providing dinner at school at no cost to students who choose to participate. Similarly, Shawnee Public Schools provides an “enhanced snack” to students at the end of the school day. The pilot programs set a good example for how we can better feed hungry children across the state.

More than 8 in 10 students in Oklahoma City Public schools qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, and administrators recognized that for many students, two school meals a day still meant many were at risk of going to bed hungry. To combat hunger and meet the needs of students, the OKC school board voted in 2016 to begin a pilot supper program at Capitol Hill High School, using funds available through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

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Extended family leave for new parents would boost economy while addressing some of Oklahoma’s worst health rankings

Too many Oklahoma parents face an impossible choice – continue to work full-time and miss precious opportunities to bond with a new child, or leave work and put their finances and career at risk. Oklahomans shouldn’t face this choice.  New parents should be able to take leave to bond with and care for a new child without putting their family’s future at risk.

Senate Bill 549, which has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the House Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee, is a good first step in the modernization of family leave in Oklahoma. [UPDATE: SB 549 passed committee with a 14-0 vote and will next go to the full House.] Under federal law, most American workers are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, and several states have provided further paid or unpaid leave. SB 549 would extend that to 20 weeks of unpaid leave for Oklahoma’s state employees.

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DHS Director: Oklahoma budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable”

OKDHS Director Ed Lake

Unless lawmakers find new revenues to close their budget shortfall, Oklahoma is looking at unprecedented cuts to the most basic services of state government, including those for the most vulnerable seniors, children, and people with disabilities. Even before next year’s budget, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) will run out of money in May to pay for in-home care of 25,000 seniors and individuals with severe disabilities unless the Legislature acts quickly to provide supplemental funds.

Yesterday, OKDHS Director Ed Lake sent a message to all employees of the agency stating that further cuts would threaten the elimination of entire programs serving very vulnerable adults and children. The cuts could even undo the progress made under court order to improve our child welfare system. Here is Director Lake’s message in full:

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Oklahoma DHS is about to run out of money to pay for care of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities

by | March 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (9)

There are honest arguments and discussions to be had about the place and role of government. However, we generally agree that the government has an important role in protecting the lives and health of Americans who aren’t able to protect themselves, including those who are elderly or have significant disabilities.

However, in Oklahoma, years of budget cuts have now compromised our Department of Human Services’ ability to fulfill this core function of government. As a result, thousands of Oklahomans who are elderly or have disabilities could lose access to vital services in just a few months. Without a supplemental appropriation, DHS doesn’t have the funds to pay providers for the care of more than 25,000 Oklahomans after April.

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In a tight budget year, HB 1270 would grow administrative waste and punish families who try to save for the future

by | March 16th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

​Oklahoma legislators have big challenges this session to deal with another revenue failure and​ budget shortfall. Regular Oklahomans are struggling to support their families in a state where too many jobs still don’t pay a living wage.​​ In this context, you’d think our lawmakers would want to avoid squandering taxpayer money or demonizing families struggling to get by. Unfortunately, HB 1270, which has passed out of a House committee and awaits action by the full House, would simultaneously waste state dollars, punish families for trying to save for the future, and feed ugly, unfounded stereotypes about people ​making low wages.

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“Small loan” bill would mean big debts for Oklahoma families

For many Oklahomans in a financial trouble, payday loans can seem like a quick and easy fix. Borrowers can take out a payday loan for up to $500, secured by a post-dated check, usually for a period of 12 to 14 days. Under Oklahoma’s deferred deposit lending act, payday lenders can charge $45 in fees for a $300 loan, which amounts to an APR (annual percentage rate) of 391 percent.

While some borrowers turn to payday loans for an emergency car repair or other one-time needs, the industry’s successful business model is built on repeated borrowing by customers facing chronic financial difficulties. Data from Oklahoma’s payday loan database revealed that a majority of all loans went to borrowers who took out twelve or more loans over the course of a year — or an average of more than one loan a month.1 Fifty-three percent of all borrowers took out seven or more loans in a year, compared to just 28 percent who took out three loans or less. The average customer who comes up chronically short of being able to pay their monthly bills paid $324 in fees to payday lenders in 2014.

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Increasing breakfast in the classroom participation can help kids learn while strengthening school budgets

Maggie Den Harder is an intern with Oklahoma Policy Institute and a Masters of Public Administration student at the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa.

Experts agree that a healthy breakfast is crucial for children to grow and learn. However, in many families factors like hectic morning schedules and pinched finances mean that children don’t get a nutritious start for the day. This is where the School Breakfast Program comes in. Like the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program allows low-income students to receive meals for free or at a reduced price. A new report shows that Oklahoma’s school breakfast participation as a percentage of School Lunch Participation outpaces the national average. Maintaining and building on this success would bring a wealth of benefits to Oklahoma students while improving the finances of school nutrition departments.

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