In The Know: DHS considers settling class-action lawsuit over foster care

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that DHS commissioners may vote Tuesday to settle a federal class-action lawsuit over the agency’s care of foster children. A settlement could require the agency to reduce caseloads by hiring more child-welfare workers. Based on this month’s estimate on revenue projections for the 2013 fiscal year, lawmakers would have a budget shortfall of about $150 million. Personal income growth in Oklahoma slowed to just 0.2 percent last quarter.

A state task force on passenger rail service has not yet met, even though the legislation creating it would have put the first meeting in August. The Tulsa Community Action Project has won a $500,000 federal grant to help transform the poverty-stricken Kendall-Whittier and Eugene Field neighborhoods.

The OK Policy Blog examines what should be the government’s role in improving health care. Mike Fogarty, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said that Oklahoma has been contemplating many of the measures mandated by the Affordable Care Act since 1996. NewsOK praises Oklahoma’s use of federal grant money to upgrade voting machines.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s total export sales of tires, the state’s second most exported product. In today’s Policy Note, Ezra Klein shows that there is no clear example of a competition-based program substantially cutting health care costs.

In The News

DHS commissioners consider settlement of class-action lawsuit over foster care

DHS commissioners may vote Tuesday to settle a federal class-action lawsuit over the agency’s care of foster children. Commission chairman Brad Yarbrough confirmed Monday that a settlement proposal is in the works that would “obligate DHS to continued improvement in its delivery of child-welfare services.” A New York-based group, Children’s Rights, sued DHS officials in 2008. The group is alleging that DHS policies and practices are so bad that neglected and abused children are being harmed or at risk of harm at state shelters and foster homes. The settlement could require the agency to reduce the caseloads of DHS child-welfare workers by a certain deadline. That is one of the reforms sought by the advocacy group. To reduce caseloads, the cash-strapped agency might have to hire additional child-welfare specialists.

Read more from NewsOK.

Estimates project $150 million budget shortfall

Oklahoma will have a flat budget next year, despite state revenue collections being projected to come in about $400 million more than a year ago, state officials said Monday. But in crafting this year’s budget, lawmakers and the governor used about $500 million in one-time funds that aren’t available next year. Based on this month’s estimate on revenue projections for the 2013 fiscal year, lawmakers would have a budget shortfall of about $150 million. But with state collections to the state’s general revenue fund coming in about 8.1 percent above estimates so far this fiscal year, much of that shortfall could be erased by February when the state Board of Equalization certifies the amount of money lawmakers can appropriate during next year’s session.

Read more from NewsOK.

Personal income growth slows in Oklahoma, U.S.

Personal income growth slowed in Oklahoma and the nation as a whole during the third quarter, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Monday. The state’s personal income rose to $141.5 billion, up from a revised $141.2 billion in the second quarter. Oklahoma’s 0.2 percent growth was down from a 1.6 percent rise in personal income recorded in the second quarter, putting the state at ninth best in the nation. Despite’s Oklahoma’s quarterly ranking, its personal income growth was still “close to nothing,” said David Lenze, an economist with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Personal income is a comprehensive measure of the income received by all residents from all sources.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Rail service task force slow to get under way

The Tulsa City Council needs to put pressure on top legislative leaders to get the state task force on passenger rail service off high center, said Evan Stair, a member of the city’s rail advisory committee. Stair said his advocacy efforts for the past five years toward getting passenger rail service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City have been through “trickle up leadership.” “I’m just an ordinary citizen from Norman,” he said, noting that he finds working with the Legislature difficult and that when he hits a road block, he turns to local elected officials to “use their bully pulpit.” The task force, enacted by the Legislature, was to have met 90 days after the close of the legislative session, which would have put the first meeting in August, Stair said. “Obviously, the Legislature has violated even its own legislation by not calling its first meeting,” he said. “We are well behind the curve at this point.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Tulsa group wins federal grant to improve neighborhoods

The idea is to transform a neighborhood — often city blocks centered around poor-performing schools — from a poverty-stricken area ridden with crime and despair into a place of prosperity, safety and hope. An organization dedicated to early childhood education in Tulsa won a $500,000 federal grant Monday to begin planning for such a transformation of two neighborhoods: Kendall-Whittier and Eugene Field. President Barack Obama’s administration announced recipients Monday of the second round of Promise Neighborhood Grants, awarding about $37.5 million to 20 different organizations planning to inundate a geographic area with social services. The Tulsa Community Action Project was one of 15 groups to receive the smaller $500,000 planning grants that will be used over the next year to set up services for the communities. The George Kaiser Family Foundation is matching the grant with $250,000.

Read more from NewsOK.

Which path for Oklahoma’s troubled health?

Is it the role of government to put policy in place to impact the overall health of our citizens? As the Oklahoma legislature’s interim study committee prepares its final report on the state’s obligations under the new federal health care law, the co-chairs have posed a series of questions to committee members to elicit thoughts, opinions, and lessons learned. This post responds to a central theme of those questions, a theme we think has implications for the state’s future prosperity well beyond the new health care reform law. Let’s assume that you stand on principle that it’s not the government’s role to engage the health care system. Then we have a gravely serious problem. We are very nearly the unhealthiest state in the country and we’re getting worse. Individual behaviors – smoking, diet, fitness – certainly affect health, but it’s by no means certain that they’re the most important factors. Acute structural defects in the state’s health care system demand solutions that are bigger than each of us and addressing them will benefit all of us.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Before rejecting exchange grant, Oklahoma was a leader in heath care IT

“How do you do it?” That’s a question I’ve heard a number of times in recent years from my counterparts from other states: how has Oklahoma’s SoonerCare (Medicaid) program been able to consistently deliver quality patient-centric health services? There’s really no secret – the key is leveraging innovative and adaptable technology to implement a health care vision. Successful IT projects take careful planning, focused implementation and, most importantly, time. All have been a major focus in Oklahoma for the last 15 years. Many of the measures currently mandated by the Affordable Care Act, such as HIPAA-compliant Medicaid and eligibility systems, are ones our state has been contemplating since 1996. Back then, my organization, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) began an intense study of technology – what was available and what was anticipated down the road – to implement our vision.

Read more from Government Health IT.

NewOK: Grant money for new voting machines well worth accepting

Lucky for Oklahoma, a program that provided federal grant money to help the state upgrade its voting machines came into being several years ago. If it happened today, our policymakers might say “no thanks.” That’s what happened early this year with a grant to help the state establish a health care exchange, something each state must do in order to comply with President Barack Obama’s health care law. Oklahoma returned that money over concerns about the potential red tape — but mostly because accepting the money was painted by some conservative lawmakers as the same as endorsing Obamacare. Funds for our voting machines accompanied the Help America Vote Act, which Congress approved in 2002. Oklahoma got about $26 million, and has put about $16.7 million of it toward a system that will get its first big test in February.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

We could do the whole (rail) line from Oklahoma City to Tulsa for the same expense of one mile of I-44.
Rick Westcott, a member of Tulsa’s rail advisory committee

Number of the Day

$222 million

Total export sales of tires, Oklahoma’s second most exported product, 2007

Source: Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Competition hasn’t worked in health care

Republicans and Democrats have the same problem with the Congressional Budget Office: it refuses to score competition between health-care plans as a surefire way to lower the cost of health care. This annoyed Democrats during the health-care reform debate, as it meant the Affordable Care Act didn’t get any credit for the competition it would foster on its exchanges. It’s annoying Republicans now, as it means their Medicare-reform plans need to impose blunt spending caps if the CBO to certify them as deficit reducing. But the CBO is in the right here: No matter how much sense competition makes in theory, no matter how obvious it is that it will drive down the price of health care, the fact is that it keeps failing when we put it into practice.

Read more from Ezra Klein.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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