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Senate loses a talented and experienced workhorse with resignation of AJ Griffin (Capitol Update)

Sen. AJ Griffin

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.

It will be a different legislature in 2019 for those interested in children and Oklahoma’s solutions to behavioral health issues without the presence of Sen. A.J. Griffin. From day one when she came to the Senate, A.J. brought with her a wealth of experience in and passion for working with kids. A.J. had been Executive Director of the Youth Services agency in Logan County.

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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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Denying immigrants access to the safety net would have terrible consequences for us all

Most Americans agree that it’s important to have a social safety net.  Bad luck and hard times can hit any of us, and when that happens there should be something there to keep us from falling into destitution while we work to get back on our feet. That’s what the safety net does – it helps people avoid extreme deprivation and produces long-term benefits, especially for children. But recent moves by the Trump administration could create holes in the safety net, allowing many working families to crash straight through.

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The most difficult job in state government (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.

Jami Ledoux is not a household name for most Oklahomans. But rest assured, it is for anyone involved in the child welfare system (except probably the children, who likely do well to tell you the name of their last caseworker). Jami recently resigned as director of child welfare services for DHS. When she resigned she described the job as “one of the most difficult jobs in state government.” There are a lot of difficult jobs in government, but among the most difficult, like child welfare director, are the ones that bring the full power of the state to bear on individual lives.

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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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Why shouldn’t women be allowed to talk about wages with their co-workers? (Guest Post: Liz Waggoner)

Liz Waggoner

Liz Waggoner is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, the state’s leading advocacy organization for women and girls.

You might have missed it, but April 10th was Equal Pay Day in the United States.  Equal Pay Day indicates how far into the current year women must work to earn what men made in the previous year; in other words, women must work for 15 and half months to earn what a man earns in 12 months. This day exists because the gender wage gap is still a reality – in Oklahoma, women working full-time, year round earn just 77 percent of what men earn. Though multiple factors contribute to gender pay disparities, one of the reasons women make less than men is wage discrimination – employers paying women less than their male colleagues for the same job. It’s been illegal since 1963, but it can happen easily when wage and pay information is a secret.

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In a potential teacher walkout, communities must step up to fill the nutrition gap (Guest post: Brent Sadler)

by | March 29th, 2018 | Posted in Children and Families, Education | Comments (0)

Brent Sadler is Vice President of Community Investments for the Tulsa Area United Way.

With the potential for a teacher walkout on the horizon, one of our greatest concerns is food insecurity for our most vulnerable citizens – our children.  In Oklahoma, nearly 24 percent of all children live in food-insecure households, and 62 percent of Oklahoma public school students are enrolled in a free or reduced-price meal program.

The Tulsa Area United Way service area includes Tulsa, Creek, Wagoner, Osage, Rogers and Okmulgee counties, where the number of children eligible for free and reduced price meals program exceeds 98,000 students. This includes 30,000 eligible students in Tulsa Public Schools alone.  Without school, many students are at risk of being hungry.

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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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Don’t ask Oklahomans to step down from guiding state agencies (Guest post: RoseAnn Duplan, Wanda Felty, and Erin Taylor)

by | February 8th, 2018 | Posted in Children and Families, Healthcare | Comments (2)

RoseAnn Duplan, Wanda Felty, and Erin Taylor are advocates for families on the DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services) Waiting List.

As parents of adult children with developmental disabilities, we’ve earned seven decades of experience.   We’re familiar with programs and supports other families rarely need: TEFRA, assistive technology, and Medicaid waivers, to name just a few. As family advocates, we’ve served on numerous oversight bodies evaluating state policies that serve family members like ours.  Boards and commissions afford consumers of agency services some decision-making influence.

Yet, as early as this week, legislators are poised to hear a special session bill, HB 1027XX,  that would eliminate boards and commissions at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OKHCA), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services (ODMHSAS), and several other agencies.  Current boards and commissions would devolve to agency advisory committees with no formal authority. HB 1027 would grant the Governor sole authority to appoint or terminate agency leadership at OKHCA, ODMHSAS, and a half dozen more agencies. This is one of the proposals being promoted by Step Up Oklahoma.

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