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Guest Blog (Sara Waggoner): Can emergency food programs continue to meet growing needs?

by | April 19th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

From time to time, we use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This entry is from Sara Waggoner, Executive Director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

I have been in Food Banking for 28 years and just finished my 20th year as executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. I have never seen the need for emergency food programs so prevalent or the increase in requests so high.

Emergency food programs were originally established to provide food for a short period of time to families who temporarily lacked enough money to meet all of their basic needs. Providing food allowed them to use their resources to pay a utility bill, put gas in the car to get to work or buy medicine. Families usually needed help two to four times per year, occasionally six times. Over the last two and a half years, not only has the number of people requesting help increased by 40 percent in the 24 counties served by the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, but, more and more families are relying on these emergency food programs to make it through each month.

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Health Care Reform (1): Coverage expansion can turn steep cliffs into gentle dips

by | April 16th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of posts looking at the impact of the new federal health care reform law on Oklahoma and Oklahomans. For full information on health care reform, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation website is excellent. We encourage your contributions as comments or as  a guest blog.

Last June, I posted a blog which I titled “Sorry, I can’t afford that raise” discussing the cliff effect. This is the situation  that occurs whereby low-income working families lose eligibility for public benefit and work support programs as their incomes rise.  As described in a 2007 report prepared for the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Women and Family Action Network Coalition:

A benefit cliff occurs when just a small increase in income leads to the complete termination of a benefit. The result is that parents can work and earn more, while their families end up worse off than they were before.

I noted that:

At a certain threshold, workers find themselves in a situation where the rational response to an offer of a raise or a better job is to respond, “Sorry, but I just can’t afford it.”

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Classic Reruns: No-tax day

by | April 14th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (1)

This is one of our most widely read and popular blog posts. It was written by Paul Shinn and initially ran on our blog on April 15, 2009.

April 15. I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan  and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? I’m willing to try, I think, as I dose off…

In the morning, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve awakened in a tax-free America. So far, it’s great; I didn’t need to set the alarm! No real point in taking the kids to school, if it’s even open today. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year. When little Heather asks about whether she can go to college, I just laugh. We can’t pay the tens of thousands of tuition for a private college. There’s no grant or loan programs and womens’ sports don’t make a profit, so there are no athletic scholarships awaiting her. Child care is risky too, since nobody determines if day care operators are qualified, safe, and not just in it to find victims for something.

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Revenues: Despite improvements, next year’s die is cast… unless the Legislature acts

by | April 13th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Today’s announcement of the monthly General Revenue collections brought incontestable good news:

State revenue collections in March topped prior year collections for the first time since December 2008 and the official estimate for a second consecutive month, State Treasurer Scott Meacham announced today.

Collections beat the official estimate by an impressive $81.4 million, or 25.5 percent. For the third quarter of FY ’10, collections fell short of the estimate by just 2.4 percent; by comparison, for the second quarter, revenues were more than 27 percent below the estimate.

Compared to the same month in 2009, collections in March were $6.4 million, or 1.6 percent, higher. The chart below, which we have been using in recent months to put this year’s collections in a longer-term perspective,  reveals the extent to which March marks a sharp and decisive upturn in revenues. The month’s collections were back to just over 90 percent of the average collection for the same month over the past five years.  In each of the previous nine months, collections remained mired below 85 percent of their five-year average.

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ASPIRE-ing to lifetime savings and building assets

by | April 12th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security | Comments (1)

For many of us, the economic events of the past two years have eroded our savings and heightened our sense of economic fragility. Yet for many low- and moderate-income households, savings have long been out of reach. The 2009-10 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, which OK Policy released in partnership with CFED, revealed that in 2006, more than one in five Oklahoma households was in “asset poverty”, meaning that it had insufficient net worth to subsist at the federal poverty level for three months if income were interrupted, such as due to a job loss. Without savings, any minor setback can turn into a full-fledged crisis. More importantly, perhaps, without access to savings to attend college, buy a home, start a business, or retire, the pathway out of poverty and towards economic security is blocked.

It is for this reason that an important and growing movement of anti-poverty advocates have focused in recent years on ways to support savings among low and moderate-income families. As we discussed in our issue brief, “More than Just Getting By, ” public policies in this country have long encouraged savings, ownership and wealth creation through such mechanisms as the home mortgage deduction and preferential tax treatment of capital gains and college 529 plan contributions. The problem is that most low-income households are not in a position to benefit from the asset building policies embedded in the tax code. As a result, one study found that 45 percent of the benefits from federal asset development policies went to the richest 1 percent of households, while less than 3 percent of the benefits went to the bottom 60 percent of households.

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Listening to the Mann: For Federal Medicaid Director, 2014 starts now

by | April 9th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

This week I had the pleasure of attending a gathering of policy analysts and advocates from 15 states on “Transforming Health Care Coverage for Children and Families,” convened by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. The conference, which focused on the opportunities and challenges of providing coverage to the uninsured while the new health care reform law is being implemented, featured a keynote address by Cindy Mann, Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operation within CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This post shares some of her key points. It has been cross-posted to CCF’s “Say Ahhh!” blog.

Mann started out by reminding the attendees that Medicaid is already a key source of health insurance, providing coverage to nearly 63 million Americans over the course of the year in 2008. Currently, Medicaid is of particular importance for covering children in low-income families, and has been primarily responsible for the substantial progress made in reducing the rates of uninsured children to below 10 percent nationally in 2008.  Enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the program that covers children from moderate income families in some states, grew by 2.6 million children in 2008-09, picking up the slack for declining employer-based coverage during the initial phase of the economic downturn.

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Bridging the Gap (4): Controlling runaway tax credits

by | April 7th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

As Oklahoma faces record budget shortfalls, the threat of massive cuts that would slow the state’s economic recovery and, in the Governor’s words, “have irreparable and damaging effects on our state services infrastructure,” looms large. This post is the fourth  in a series that discusses some of the most promising policy ideas for a balanced approach to closing the deficit that includes new revenue sources. Previous entries examined the vendor sales tax discount, the deduction for state income taxes, and collecting taxes on Internet sales.

Oklahoma’s appropriated budget in 2008 was just under $7 billion. That same year, the state granted tax preferences in the form of credits, deductions, exemptions, and the like that had an estimated fiscal impact of at least $5.6 billion in taxes that were not paid that would otherwise have been owed. As the recession has battered state revenue collections, leading to automatic across-the-board cuts of 7.5 percent of General Revenue this year and the prospect of cuts of up to 12 percent to all state agencies next year, this extensive system of tax preferences, or tax expenditures as they are frequently called, has been left largely untouched.

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Bridging the Gap (3): Leveling the playing field on sales tax collections

by | April 5th, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

As Oklahoma faces record budget shortfalls, the threat of massive cuts that would slow the state’s economic recovery and, in the Governor’s words, “have irreparable and damaging effects on our state services infrastructure,” looms large. This post is the third in a series that discusses some of the most promising policy ideas for a balanced approach to closing the budget deficit that includes new revenue sources.  Previous entries examined the vendor sales tax discount and the deduction for state income taxes.

The sales tax is the single largest revenue source for state and local governments in Oklahoma, providing more than one out of every four dollars that helps pay for such core public services as school teachers, police officers, environmental protection, and medical care. When purchases of taxable goods are made in-state, sales tax is collected directly by the retailer. When purchases are made of the same taxable goods out-of-state – whether via the Internet, catalogs or other sellers – taxes, in this case known as a use tax, are still legally owed by the purchaser. However, as a result of a pair of Supreme Court cases, the most recent of which was Quill vs. North Dakota, retailers who lack a physical presence, or nexus, in a state can not be required to collect and remit use tax owed to the state.  That has meant that an online retailer like Target.com, which has brick-and-mortar stores in Oklahoma, collects sales tax on online purchases from Oklahomans, while other online retailers, like Amazon.com, do not.

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Lighter Side: A Solution to the School Funding Crunch a 4th Grader Could Love

by | April 1st, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

Last night my family was discussing the tough times facing public schools in Tulsa and elsewhere. My son, Noah, who’s in the 4th grade, offered one of his favorite jokes (from Jokes for Children, Marguerite Kohl and Frederica Young, 1963):

A little  boy had heard about how crowded the schools were in his city and was discussing the problem with his grade school principal. After listening to the little fellow for a few minutes, the principal said to him, “I think it’s very thoughtful of you, but I don’t really feel that your resignation is the solution to our crowded school problem.”

Noah wants the powers to be to know that should Tulsa Public Schools decide to go this route, he’d accept a very reasonable severance package of two Nintendo game cartridges and a new IPod.

Bridging the Gap (2): Closing the circle on the state income tax deduction

by | March 31st, 2010 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

As Oklahoma faces record budget shortfalls, the threat of massive cuts that would slow the state’s economic recovery and have potentially devastating effects on schools, social services, and public safety loom large. In this context, there is an urgent need for a balanced approach to bridging the state’s budget gap that includes identifying possible sources of additional one-time or ongoing revenue. This post is the second in a series that discusses some of the most promising policy ideas for generating additional revenue that would go at least part of the way to closing the budget deficit; the first looked at the sales tax discount paid to vendors.

Were you aware that Oklahoma allows a state income tax deduction for state income taxes? The idea doesn’t sound plausible, but it’s true.  Among the allowable deductions for those who claim itemized deductions on their federal taxes is one for state income tax. In 2007, according to IRS statistics (Excel file),  about 400,000 Oklahomans claimed this deduction to the tune of $2.2 billion. Due to a quirk of Oklahoma tax laws, those deducting state income taxes from their federal taxes are also allowed to claim this deduction against their state income tax.

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