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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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Video series tells real-life stories of Oklahomans threatened by push to restrict SoonerCare

Thousands of Oklahoma parents need our state’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare, just to fill a prescription or go to the doctor. But now, lawmakers are rushing to require these parents to work a certain number of hours per week or lose their health care.

As our video series shows, these new requirements are bad for Oklahoma. Work requirements will endanger families by taking needed health care from parents trying to make a better life for their children. They’ll even put working families at risk by threatening health care for those who can’t control the hours they’re scheduled for. And they won’t help to move more Oklahomans into the workforce. Please contact Governor Fallin and ask her to stop the push for Medicaid work requirements. You can watch all the videos below or learn more here.

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Signs of progress on reducing barriers to work in Oklahoma

Last fall, we told you about the work of the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Task Force, a group of leaders from the Legislature, state agencies, and private businesses that formed in 2016 to study occupational licensing in the state. The task force’s recommendations are now popping up in legislation this session, and this is very welcome news! These legislative efforts at licensing reform have the potential to help many Oklahoma workers — especially low-income workers — move into professions and occupations that have been off-limits to them due to the cost associated with a license or a criminal history.

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Employment credit checks are putting jobs out of reach for Oklahomans

This post is by OK Policy intern Lydia Lapidus. Lydia is a recent graduate from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs with a concentration in International Politics.

When applying for a job, you might scan your social media profiles and hide or delete any off-putting posts that an employer could see. But what if they look at your credit report? You can’t hide the credit card payment you missed several years ago. Though credit reports were originally designed to help banks determine interest rates on loans, nearly half of all American companies now use credit checks as an employment vetting tool. Job applicants with good credit reports are viewed as responsible; those with poor credit reports may be discarded as unreliable or likely to steal from their employer.

That’s unfortunate, because using credit reports during the hiring process ends up unfairly screening out low-income people and minorities, and it keeps qualified candidates out of work and talent out of Oklahoma’s workforce. A person’s credit history, or lack thereof, says nothing about their work ethic, trustworthiness, or potential job performance. It can, however, reflect the financial misfortunes of long-term unemployment, lack of health insurance, and medical debt. So far, eleven states have passed laws either restricting or prohibiting the use of credit reports in employment decisions; Oklahoma should join them.

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Too many Oklahoma families are one emergency away from financial disaster

This week is America Saves Week when many community organizations promote saving money and encourage people to look at the state of their own finances. For many Oklahoma families, this would be a disheartening exercise. Four in ten Oklahomans don’t have the cash, or property that could be sold for cash, to support themselves at the poverty level for three months. For these families, just one small emergency, from an unexpected medical bill to a car repair, could easily mean debt or financial collapse. But why are so many Oklahomans in such dire financial straits?

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Lunch shaming is real – but we can end it (Guest Post: Effie Craven)

Effie Craven is the State Advocacy and Public Policy Director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Imagine you are a child waiting in the school lunch line with your friends.  You laugh and joke as you move through the line and get your trays, enjoying the break from class.  But when you get to the cashier and scan your meal card, there is not enough money for your lunch.  Your tray is taken from you – your hot meal is thrown away and replaced by a cheese sandwich as your classmates look on.

Practices like this, known as lunch shaming, are all too common in schools. And these practices are emotionally damaging to children, who have no control over their family’s financial situation and are often facing food insecurity at home as well. One in four Oklahoma children has inconsistent access to adequate, healthy food. The National School Breakfast and School Lunch Programs provide critical nutrition support to more than 425,000 Oklahoma children every year, but many students are either not eligible or not enrolled in the free and reduced price school meals programs.

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Bill Watch: Ways to help Oklahoma families build wealth this legislative session

This post is the first in a series highlighting key bills in several issues areas that we’re following. 

Last session, working families saw little in the way of help from the Legislature.  As the budget crisis continued, core services suffered further cuts and teachers and state employees did not see the raises that many legislators promised would be a priority. Too many Oklahomans are still struggling with financial instability, but there are opportunities for the legislature to make some strides this session.

We identified several goals related to economic opportunity and security in OK Policy’s 2018 legislative policy priorities. Here are some key bills related to those goals:

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Step Up coalition’s new tax credit is a poor substitute for restoring the EITC

by | February 7th, 2018 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)

Just a few weeks ago, the Step Up Oklahoma coalition announced their plan for a variety of tax increases and reforms to resolve some of Oklahoma’s long-standing budget problems. Since then, the proposal has attracted support from a broad range of groups representing different parts of Oklahoma’s private and public sectors, and House leaders have promised that they will vote quickly on the package.

Several of the revenue ideas in the Step Up plan have been discussed in Oklahoma for years. The plan includes well-vetted ideas like increasing the cigarette tax to raise revenues while reducing smoking, increasing the gas tax which hasn’t been adjusted for inflation in three decades, and partially rolling back Oklahoma’s unnecessary tax breaks for oil and gas drilling. However, the plan also includes changes like a first-of-its-kind production tax on wind energy and a complex set of changes to the income tax that haven’t been nearly as well-vetted.

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