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Bill Watch: This year in #okleg

Last week, the Oklahoma legislature adjourned one of the more extraordinary legislative sessions in recent memory – one that followed one special session, ran partially concurrently with another, included nine days of protests at the Capitol, saw the Legislature raise revenues for the first time in nearly 30 years, witnessed a first step in criminal justice reform after years of efforts, and resulted in the largest funding bill in state history (although not if adjusted for inflation). But in all of the confusion and breaking news, it was easy to miss other developments. In the posts below, brief summaries by issue area lay out the major victories and defeats of this spring’s legislative session.

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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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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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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg | March 30, 2018

In our weekly Bill Watch post, we discuss what happened and what to look for in the bills we’re following most closely in the Oklahoma Legislature. See our advocacy alerts page for more ways to take action on these issues.

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New Oklahoma STABLE accounts will make it easier for Oklahomans with disabilities to save for the future (Guest Post: Amy Smith)

by | March 28th, 2018 | Posted in Financial Security | Comments (2)

Amy Smith, an OK Policy Summer Policy Institute alumna, is a graduate student in Disability Studies and an intern in the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She lives in Ada with her husband and the three of her four children who haven’t yet flown the coop.

Most all of us understand the importance of saving money for the future, and that understanding leads many of us to take advantage of tax-free savings and retirement plans such as 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, and 529 college savings plans. But for the 4.5 million disabled adults relying on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) payments, saving money for the future has been discouraged until the recent passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act.

That’s because SSI has an asset cap: if recipients have more than $2,000 in assets (including savings), they lose their benefits. This cap makes SSI different from traditional Social Security payments, which are reduced if income or savings exceed a certain amount. With traditional Social Security payments, you still get the benefit, but it’s smaller as your assets increase. But SSI benefits are not adjusted down; they are simply cancelled if you exceed the asset cap. 

Living under this asset cap made it impossible for SSI recipients to do something as simple as save up the money required to move into their own apartments, for example. $2,000 isn’t always enough to cover first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit for someone trying to move into their own apartment. It also doesn’t allow much for furniture, daily transportation, or out-of-pocket medical expenses. Saving for an emergency was out of the question. Staying under the $2,000 limit created a “spend-down” mentality where money had to be spent on something, anything, in order to keep receiving critical benefits.

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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg

This week we’re launching a new weekly update to our blog that previews some of the bills we’re watching in the Oklahoma Legislature over the next week. Throughout the week, we’ll continuing sharing advocacy alerts with ways that you can take action on key bills. Although there’s always potential for surprises in the legislative process, we hope this update will help you to be better prepared and informed about these key decisions being made for our state.

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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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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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Oklahoma slips in new economic rankings

Recent good news about gains the national economy – lower unemployment, small declines in the poverty rate, and a booming stock market – is not reflected here in Oklahoma. The 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard paints a picture of many Oklahoma families struggling to make ends meets and build a better future for themselves. Oklahoma’s 40th place ranking is a decline from our 37th place score last year – which itself was a decline from 34th the year before.

The Prosperity Now Scorecard uses the most recent data available from several sources to offer the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, move out of –and stay out of – poverty, and create a more prosperous future. It also evaluates 53 different policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facing their residents.

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