Skip to Content

Today is the final day to purchase tickets for the 2018 State Budget Summit! Get your tickets here.

Easy money

by | May 19th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)

Sunday’s Tulsa World reports that one of many important decisions left to the last week of the legislative session is whether to modernize Oklahoma’s unemployment insurance (UI) system to qualify for $75 million in additional federal stimulus money. According to Governor Brad Henry’s spokesman Paul Sund,

There is no downside to accepting the dollars. If we reject them, there is the risk that Oklahoma businesses may ultimately be asked to pick up the tab if or when unemployment funds run short.

In April, we released an issue brief that points out that Oklahoma needs to make minor changes to qualify for the funding:

  1. Make the “alternative base period” (the period for which earnings are counted to determine unemployment compensation) permanent. Oklahoma adopted an alternative base period in 2002 but it is suspended when the balance of the unemployment trust fund falls. This is a fiscally sound requirement, but it also can cut unemployment benefits when they are needed most.
  2. Expand the definition of “compelling family circumstances” that allow a worker to collect unemployment when leaving a job voluntarily. The new circumstances–domestic violence, transfer of a spouse,  and illness of the worker or family member–help make the UI system better fit today’s families.
  3. Cover workers seeking part-time jobs if their previous work experience is part-time.

Continue Reading »

Holes in the net

by | May 19th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Recently, The New York Times had a front-page article spotlighting the extent to which victims of the economic downturn are able to access public benefits that are part of the nation’s safety net.  Most programs, including Unemployment Insurance, food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, and cash assistance, operate as state-federal partnerships in which eligibility rules and administrative practices can vary greatly from one state to another, as well as from one program to another.  This can lead to major disparities in program participation rates across states. For example, 67 percent of the unemployed receive jobless benefits in New Jersey and Idaho, but just 25 percent in Texas.

The Times presents a 50-state table of participation rates in six public benefit programs. Their data shows that Oklahoma is slightly above the national average in the share of eligible individuals receiving food stamp benefits (69 percent compared to 67 percent nationally); the share of eligible households receiving public housing assistance (32 percent compared to 30 percent nationally), and share of uninsured low-income children covered by public health care programs (77 percent compared to 73 percent nationally).

Continue Reading »

This just in from the Stroud office

by | May 18th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

The Brookings Institution recently released a study of the continuing shift of jobs away from cities and toward the suburbs. According to Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment, only 21 percent of Americans who live in metropolitan areas work within three miles of a downtown area. All but three of the 98 areas studied have seen jobs move further away from the city center from 1998 to 2006. Nearly every industry is involved in this outward shift.

Only 21 percent of employees in the largest 98 metro areas work within three miles of downtown, while over twice that share (45 percent) work more than 10 miles away from the city center.

Oklahoma’s major metropolitan areas are joining in this trend. Our jobs are not as spread out as most metro areas, but lately they have been spreading faster. Just under a quarter of Oklahoma City (23.9 percent) and Tulsa (23.1 percent) jobs are 10 or more miles from the city center, compared to the national average of 45 percent. From 1998-2006, Oklahoma City share of jobs in this “outer ring” has grown by 4.6 percentage points; in Tulsa it grew by 3.8 percentage points. Both are considerably higher than the national average growth of 2.6 percent.

Continue Reading »

Spring Haircuts

by | May 17th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

On Friday afternoon, legislative leaders and the Governor announced the outline of a long-awaited budget agreement. This step is necessary to start the flood of bills to fund state agencies, allocate some of the federal stimulus money, and decide what to do with various tax cut proposals that are still floating around the Capitol. The expectation is that all budget bills will get passed in time to adjourn by this Friday.

In the announcement of the agreement, House Speaker Chris Benge (R-Tulsa) acknowledged the difficulty involved in crafting a budget during a recession:

In a down financial year, the budgeting process is always difficult as we take close stock in exactly how we are spending taxpayer dollars. This year was especially complicated by the federal stimulus money Oklahoma received and our dedication to making sure those one-time dollars were used as prudently as possible. This budget is a reflection of the surgical cuts we promised the people of Oklahoma early in session. The easy route would have been to cut every agency by the same amount and go home…This effort will maintain many of the core services upon which Oklahomans depend each and every day while ensuring our government is as efficient as possible.

A spreadsheet distributed on Friday compares proposed FY ’10 funding with actual FY ’09 funding for each agency. To fund the proposed $7.200 billion FY ’10 budget, the agreement uses some $640 million in stimulus dollars, plus over $100 million in additional state funds beyond the revenues certified as available in February. “Surgical cuts” turns out to mean seven percent reductions for most agencies, smaller reductions for others, and essentially flat funding or small increases to cover increases in mandatory costs for several key agencies, including common ed, higher ed, Medicaid, and Corrections. Some key law enforcement and judicial agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, the District Courts, District Attorneys and the Indigent Defense System, face cuts of 6 to 7 percent, as do most regulatory agencies, such as the departments of  Labor and Consumer Credit; administrative agencies, such as the Tax Commission and State Auditor’s Office, and economic development agencies, such as the Department of Tourism. The Rural Economic Action Program, which supports rural water projects, had its $15.5 million budget eliminated entirely.

Continue Reading »

Coming soon

by | May 15th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Dan Piraro provides a Bizzaro taste of what’s in store for publicly-funded services in Oklahoma

Hang on!

by | May 15th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)

As we reach one week until the scheduled adjournment of the Oklahoma Legislature on May 22nd, we can only share the advice offered by Bette Davis in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn at 5:00 pm on the last Friday in May. But earlier this session, both chambers passed a resolution to move that date up one week. At this late stage in the process, a huge amount of important work remains on the Legislature’s plate. Most obviously, an agreement on the FY ’10 budget has yet to be reached between the Legislature and Governor, with the most recent indications being that the two sides remain a good distance apart. There may still be enough time remaining to pass the budget; however, with each passing day, the chances that there will be time for legislators, the media, advocates, and the public to become informed about the myriad decisions and details contained in the budget bills grow slimmer. Once an agreement is reached, bills containing appropriation language, budget limits, FTE authorizations, and other legal matters must be written, signed out of conference committee, and granted final passage in both chambers for each of the state’s 80-plus appropriated agency. For many agencies, the bills that go whizzing through the process will reflect budget cuts and include the use of federal stimulus dollars.  With such a tight schedule, it is likely to be well past the end of session before anyone other than the few key legislators and staff involved in the actual budget negotiations know what has been decided.

Continue Reading »

If it ain't broke, don't break it

by | May 14th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (2)

In November, U.S. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana proposed that all applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program be required to submit to a mandatory drug test as a condition of receiving assistance. His proposal was defeated on a vote of 79-18, with a majority of Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it.

Now the Oklahoma Legislature is considering similar legislation as a conference committee substitute for SB 390.The language being proposed reads:

The Department of Human Services shall establish a program of drug testing for those persons applying for or receiving assistance pursuant to the TANF program. Those persons identified as in need of substance abuse services shall be conditionally eligible to receive assistance pursuant to this subsection provided that the applicant participate in the recommended substance abuse services.

The bill as it originally passed the Senate and House called for a program of drug screening, rather than drug testing, for TANF applicants.

Continue Reading »

Numbers You Need – May 2009

by | May 14th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Numbers You Need | Comments (0)

Numbers You Need is a monthly publication from OK Policy that presents key data on the state’s economy, work force, human services, and budget in one concise, easy-to-read fact sheet.

The forecasters may be predicting an economic turnaround ahead, but the May edition of Numbers You Need shows we haven’t turned the corner quite yet. The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate hit 5.9 percent in March, an increase of 0.4 percentage point compared to the previous month and 2.6 percentage points compared to a year ago. Oklahoma is now shedding jobs at the same rate as the national average. Meanwhile, state revenue collections continued their free fall in April, coming in 21.7 percent below last year’s amount and 21.6 percent below the certified estimate.

Some other key findings from May’s edition:

  • As the downturn deepens, participation in the Food Stamp program and Medicaid continues to grow, but fewer people are receiving TANF cash assistance benefits (see our blog entry “What if we threw a recession and no one showed up at the welfare office?“);
  • The Consumer Price Index grew by a modest 0.3 percent in March in the South region, but was down 0.3 percent over the past 12 months;
  • Bankruptcies in Oklahoma were up 23.0 percent in 2008 compared to 2007; and
  • 56 percent of Oklahoma public school children were enrolled in the free- and reduced-meal program in 2008-09 (see our blog entry “Feeding the Children” for a full discussion).

Click here to access the full two-page fact sheet.

Open House

by | May 13th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)

It’s taken me awhile, but I finally made it to the White House blog, which has been up and running since President Obama’s inauguration. For those interested in paying attention to what is going on in the White House, the blog, which is updated several times daily and includes a wide range of contributors, is an invaluable source of materials and information. In addition to entries tied to press releases coming from the President or members of his Administration, the blog includes transcripts and videos of press conferences, public speeches, town hall meetings, and the President’s weekly radio address, along with lots and lots of pictures. When the President makes a major announcement, as with last week’s commitment to cut $17 billion in federal spending as part of the FY’10 budget, the blog provides a space for the Administration to lay out its case and guide the public to more detailed information.

Continue Reading »

Small steps

by | May 13th, 2009 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Stimulus | Comments (1)

Kudos to the Oklahoma Legislature and Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland for taking a small but worthwhile step in helping Oklahomans keep their health insurance. SB 553, authored by Sen. Ron Justice (R-Chickasha) in the Senate and sponsored by Rep. Leslie Osborn (R–Tuttle) of the House, expands the state’s “mini-COBRA” health insurance plan for the newly unemployed. The bill allows Oklahomans who have lost their jobs with small businesses to keep their health insurance for four months and receive a federal subsidy to help pay the premium. The bill has passed both houses and  is headed to Governor Brad Henry’s desk.

COBRA is a federal law that allows a person leaving a job to keep health insurance coverage through their former employer for up to 18 months, if the employee pays full monthly premiums plus an administrative charge. For those who can afford it, COBRA offers a way to keep the same insurance coverage while they seek other work or better insurance options. COBRA does not help all workers, however. Among other gaps, it applies only to firms with 20 or more employees.

Oklahoma and most other states created “mini-COBRA” laws to extend COBRA-like rights to employees of smaller firms. However, most mini-COBRAs are more restrictive than the federal one and Oklahoma’s is amongst the most restrictive of all. Employees are entitled to coverage for only one month after they leave a job.

Continue Reading »