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TAKE ACTION: Submit a comment by Friday to protect SoonerCare for thousands of Oklahoma families

No family should be punished for accepting help when they need it

The proposed rule change will be available for public comment until December 10. Click here to submit your own public comment.

Bad luck or hard times can hit any of us, and when it happens we should all be able to seek and accept help to meet basic needs while we work to get back on our feet.  But for many Oklahoma families, that assurance of compassion and help may soon disappear. Recently proposed changes to federal immigration rules would make it harder for families to put food on the table, get medical care when they need it, pay for prescription drugs, and find a safe place to live.

The “public charge” test

Anyone seeking to come to the United State, or anyone already here legally seeking to stay here permanently, must demonstrate that they, or someone sponsoring them, can provide for their family so they won’t become dependent on the government. Current immigration rules consider a broad set of factors when considering applicants – age, health status, skills and education, and financial resources are just a few.  Any use of cash assistance programs (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is also considered a negative factor.

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2017 Oklahoma Poverty Profile

[Download the 2017 Poverty Profile as a PDF Fact Sheet]

621,076 Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty level in 2017.

That’s 15.8 percent of Oklahoma’s population, or about 1 out of every 6 Oklahomans.

The poverty rate in Oklahoma continues to be above the national average

For more than a decade, Oklahoma’s poverty rate has been higher than the national average, and that didn’t change in 2017.  In fact, the gap between Oklahoma and the nation widened a bit in the most recent years. In 2013, Oklahoma’s poverty rate was 1 percentage point above the national average. Last year, we were 2.4 points above the national average.

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Will this generation make better priorities to protect the next generation? (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I attended an interim study this week requested by Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) and Sen. Kay Floyd (D-OKC) that presented some excellent, if discouraging information on adverse childhood experiences (ACES.) Early childhood experts talked about what ACES are, the lifetime consequences of ACES, what the record shows about ACES in Oklahoma children, and what works to avoid ACES.

ACES have been scientifically proven to disrupt childhood brain development, which in turn causes social, emotional and cognitive impairment that affects a person the rest of her life. Children suffering ACES are known to adopt health-risk behaviors that result in disease, disabilities, and social problems and eventually end in early death. A CDC study shows that people with six or more ACES died 20 years earlier on average than those without ACES. Those with zero ACES lived an average of 80 years while those with 6-plus ACES lived 60 years. The economic toll is also striking. The CDC estimates the lifetime costs associated with child maltreatment is $124 billion.

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Oklahoma poverty numbers are part of a larger picture (Capitol Update)

by | September 18th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There’s an interesting, unsettling piece in a recent update by Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Courtney Cullison. It reviews new data from the Census Bureau that reminds us we are behind in Oklahoma when it comes to Oklahomans living in poverty and without health insurance. In 2017, nearly 1 in 6 Oklahomans (15.8 percent) were living with income below the poverty line ($24,600 for a family of four) before taxes. Worse, more than one in five (21.5 percent) of Oklahoma children live in a household below the poverty line. At the same time, Oklahoma’s uninsured rate increased to 14.2 percent (up from 13.8 percent in 2016.) This is the first increase in our uninsured rate since 2010 and puts us second highest in the nation of people uninsured.

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New Census data shows that Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate for second consecutive year

Oklahoma lags behind the nation in our efforts to help families get ahead. New data from the Census Bureau shows that poverty in Oklahoma is still above the national average. In 2017, nearly 1 in 6 Oklahomans (15.8 percent) were living with income below the poverty line ($24,600 for a family of four) before taxes.  And though the percentage of Oklahoma families living in poverty is lower than it was last year (16.3 percent), the distance between Oklahoma’s poverty rate and the national rate has widened.

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Citizen Petition: Oklahoma’s best chance to raise the minimum wage

Deon Osborne is a fall intern with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. He recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media from the University of Oklahoma.

Workers shouldn’t have to struggle to survive on the minimum wage. Since the founding of Oklahoma, our state constitution has allowed for citizens to bring issues to a vote of the people through a signature-gathering process. The success of citizen petitions in recent years suggests that bringing a state minimum wage raise directly to the ballot has a better chance of passing in Oklahoma than through the state Legislature.

The minimum wage was established to give workers fair pay for their labor since 1938.  Yet, the value of the minimum wage hasn’t been able to keep up with the rising cost of living, placing working families in poverty. Today, 28,000 Oklahomans make the federal minimum wage of $15,080 per year or less. This $7.25 per hour minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, even in Oklahoma.  This low wage is especially detrimental to women. Working families are the backbone of our economy.  They shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent.

While Oklahoma lawmakers have not raised the minimum wage — and even passed legislation preventing raises in local minimum wage laws — four other politically conservative states have passed minimum wage hikes through citizen petitions in recent years.  A citizen petition may be low-income workers’ best chance to establish a livable, minimum wage.

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SNAP error rates went up last year, but it wasn’t due to fraud

For many years, anti-hunger advocates have pointed to the low error rates of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as evidence of its efficiency and effectiveness. And that is true – SNAP does have a very low rate of improper payments and it is an effective program that helps millions of American families, including thousands of Oklahomans, put food on the table.

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New KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Oklahoma near the worst in the nation for child well-being

A new report shows the youngest generation of Oklahomans face far-reaching challenges. The state ranks near the bottom in the nation for most measures of child well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, the report ranks Oklahoma 44th out of all 50 states for child well-being. Even in areas where Oklahoma has seen the most improvement recently, we’re not keeping up with the progress in other states. We have a high percentage of kids scoring below proficient in reading and math, a high rate of teen births, hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty, and tens of thousands without health insurance. The 2018 Data Book shows that while Oklahoma has improved on some measures of child well-being, we still have a lot of work to do.

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Bipartisan Senate farm bill is a better way forward for families that struggle with food insecurity

Last month, we shared our concerns about the farm bill proposal being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill proposes deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) that could put 97,000 Oklahomans at risk of going hungry.  While that bill did not pass, 198 members of Congress, including all members of the Oklahoma delegation, did vote for it, and it could still be reconsidered very soon. But there’s good news as well: the Senate has proposed their own version of the farm bill, and it’s much better!

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Proposed changes to SNAP won’t put people to work – but they will result in more people going hungry

USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

More than 800,000 Oklahomans need help putting food on the table every year, and they get that help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). In Oklahoma, SNAP provides help purchasing groceries for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and the working poor. SNAP also boosts the Oklahoma economy, bringing back $890 million to our grocers in 2017. But now these important benefits to individuals and Oklahoma are under attack.

Last month, the House Committee on Agriculture approved a proposed farm bill that will make significant changes to SNAP, including radical changes to the program’s work requirements. It would require more families to meet stricter requirements, and to do so more often.  Most adults with children would be required to work at least 20 hours each week, and to prove that they’re meeting this standard every month. This will be a tall order for many workers and those trying to find work, and it will likely mean a reduction (or a total elimination) of food assistance for many of them.

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