In The Know: Oklahoma's food stamp numbers skyrocketing

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 despite unemployment dropping and state revenues rebounding, a record number of Oklahomans still need food stamp assistance for basic nutrition. Oklahoma is developing a teacher evaluation system based on whether students in their classroom perform better or worse than expected on standardized tests. Just days before inspectors begin issuing citations under the state’s new pet breeding law, the director of the agency tasked with enforcing it has unexpectedly resigned.

The mayor of Oklahoma City said major changes in public transit are being held up by a lack of funds. Inadequate transportation is a major factor preventing any elderly, poor, or disabled Oklahomans from getting health care. The story is part of a larger Tulsa World project on Oklahoma’s crisis of inadequate access to health care. This morning Gov. Fallin will announce a plan to repair Oklahoma’s bad bridges. Legislators held an ad hoc committee meeting to study reducing funding for higher education.

Tulsa was awarded a $3.5 million dollar federal grant to hire more police officers. A federal judge dismissed one lawsuit over the Cherokee freedmen descendants and sent another back to federal court in Tulsa. Kurt Hochenauer refutes a claim by The Oklahoman that taxes have gone up. The co-chair of the state’s task force on improving the foster care system discussed their progress so far and is asking for Oklahomans to provide feedback in an online survey.

Today’s Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank on a state scorecard of the quality and capacity of long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities. In today’s Policy Note, The Baseline Scenario finds that the United States will have only a small long-term deficit problem as long as we let the Bush tax cuts expire.

In The News

Oklahoma’s food stamp numbers skyrocketing

All those recent promising numbers showing unemployment dropping and state revenues rebounding don’t tell the entire story of Oklahomans’ battle with recession. One in four Oklahomans – 880,939 people – participated in the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for at least one month in fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30. In August, the state recorded the highest number of food stamp participants – 622,911 – since the program began more than 40 years ago. Thirty percent of the state’s children were fed at least in part by SNAP benefits. The Department of Human Services, which administers the program, is serving 84 percent more food stamps recipients than in 2002. Participation is up 20.5 percent from two years ago and up 45.3 percent from six years ago. Eligibility to obtain food stamps hasn’t changed in years.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma considers value-added teacher evaluations

Under a new teacher evaluation system being developed, Oklahoma teachers may be categorized based on whether students in their classroom perform better or worse than expected on standardized tests. Known as value-added evaluations, the model is notorious for being used in 2010 by the Los Angeles Times to rate about 11,500 elementary school teachers from Los Angeles Unified public schools. Under the law, student growth will account for 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and 15 percent of the evaluation will be based on another yet-to-be identified quantitative measure. The other half of a teacher’s score will come from qualitative measures such as classroom management. An 18-person commission — the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission — is tasked with developing that complex system by Dec. 15 and then recommending it to the state Education Board.

Read more from NewsOK at

Director of Oklahoma’s pet breeding agency resigns

Just days before its inspectors are to begin enforcing the state’s pet breeding law next week, the agency’s executive director has resigned. William Brogden, who submitted his resignation Wednesday, said his decision to leave the year-old agency should not affect plans for him and the agency’s two inspectors, beginning Tuesday, to go out and start enforcing the rules and issuing citations for commercial pet breeders who failed to get a license. “There’s already a plan in place, and that plan is going to be followed,” said Brogden, whose last day with the state Board of Commercial Pet Breeders is Oct. 12. “It won’t be a hindrance to what the investigators are doing.” Brogden would not say why he was leaving the agency.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma City mayor sees cost stalling transit improvements

The future of public transit in Oklahoma City could include everything from better bus service to light rail, but don’t expect major changes anytime soon. Mayor Mick Cornett said the city is trying to take first steps that will lead to a better transit system, but it will take greater demand and lots of money to come up with a system that will persuade most commuters to give up driving to work. “Change is coming, but these changes are very slow,” Cornett said. “If you are trying to get people with choices to choose public transit, there is probably going to have to be some other factor involved here, whether that is higher gas prices or people living closer to the core of the city.” For the time being, improved transit means better bus service, Cornett said. Metro Transit spokesman Michael Scroggins said ridership on the city’s buses is increasing slowly but steadily.

Read more from NewsOK at

Poor transportation, poor health care

If it weren’t for Morton Comprehensive Health Service’s in-house transportation system, Australia Hopson probably just wouldn’t go to the doctor. The 97-year-old is too arthritic to drive and doesn’t have many family members or friends available to take her to appointments. Few medical practices have transportation options like Morton, however, and even for Oklahomans who have insurance, having a doctor to see isn’t always enough. Sometimes just getting to the office is the biggest roadblock to seeking health care. In Tulsa, those who don’t have a car often must spend a couple of hours riding the bus, switching routes several times. They usually have to take off work just to get to an appointment, health officials and social workers said. Even for those who are close to their doctor’s office – which is rare in north, west or east Tulsa – walking is often difficult if not impossible thanks to busy streets without traffic control and a lack of sidewalks.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Access Denied: Oklahoma’s Health-Care Crisis from The Tulsa World

Fallin to announce plan to reduce bad bridges

Gov. Mary Fallin and state transportation officials plan to announce Monday an “aggressive plan” to dramatically reduce structurally deficient highway bridges. Fallin will make the announcement and reveal further details of the plan at a press conference Monday morning in Oklahoma City. In 2009, the state Legislature created the State Bridge Rehabilitation Program, which contributes about $20 million annually for bridge rehabilitation projects. The program, in conjunction with ODOT’s eight-year work plan, helps the department repair or replace about 100 bridges a year, an ODOT official said. Federal dollars fund 60 percent of ODOT’s eight-year plan; state dollars cover the remaining costs. The average age for span bridges on the state highway system is 42 years old, according to 2009 data. More than 500 Oklahoma bridges are 70 years old or older.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Legislators discuss reducing higher education funding

A state capitol meeting Wednesday (September 28) was opened by state Rep. Corey Holland stressing the intent of the day was to “Just begin the discussion … not bash the higher education system.” About 20 representatives and a few senators attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the public policy organization Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). Invitations were sent to the State Regents for Higher Education and officials of all of the state’s colleges and universities, but only Langston University President Henry Ponder represented the state’s higher education community. Presentations made Wednesday launched discussion on ways to trim higher education funding through modernization reforms, challenging conventional wisdom, and getting bureaucracy and turf protection out of education. Rep. Holland presented on the “Peer Factor Multiplier” area of higher education and suggested he would revive a bill he ran during the last legislative session which would eliminate peer funding and cut appropriations for higher education by almost $192 million.

Read more from CapitolBeatOK at

Tulsa awarded large federal grant to hire police

The city of Tulsa has won a sizeable federal grant to fund additional police officers after a hard-fought competition with cities across the United States. The grant comes from the Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. According to the DOJ, 2, 712 agencies competed for the grants, which are devoted to hiring officers. Those requests totaled more than $2 billion dollars and 8,999 positions. Only 238 agencies actually received the grants, and only one other agency besides TPD in Oklahoma won a grant. The grant awarded to TPD totals $3,529,041. Police Chief Chuck Jordan says the money will allow the department to hire and pay 19 officers for three years.

Read more from KRMG at

Judge tosses 1 of 2 lawsuits over whether freedmen descendants have right to Cherokee citizenship

A federal judge on Friday dismissed one of two lawsuits over whether black slaves once owned by members of the Cherokee Nation have the right to tribal citizenship. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy in Washington ruled that a lawsuit brought by the slaves’ descendants alleging that about 2,800 freedmen were disenfranchised in violation of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Treaty of 1866 could not proceed because the tribe was not a defendant in the case and couldn’t be compelled to abide by the court’s ruling. Friday’s ruling doesn’t affect a court order issued last week that allows the freedmen to vote in the special election for principal chief. Kennedy also transferred a second lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation against another group of freedmen back to federal court in Tulsa, where it was initially filed. Kennedy wrote that the lawsuit, Cherokee Nation v. Nash, offers the freedmen an alternative forum for the legal issues underlying the case to be addressed.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Okie Funk: Taxes down, not up

The Oklahoman editorial (“Searching for ways to make tax policy more ‘fair,’” Sept. 30, 2011) makes some superficial observations about the issue of fairness in the country’s taxation system, citing, among other items, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s proposal to grant tax incentives for people who install storm shelters and President Barack Obama’s recent statements about taxes and wealthy people. It eventually makes the anticlimactic point that it’s just about impossible to figure out what is fair or not fair when it comes to taxes. But at the end, the editorial tells this whopping lie, which has become almost a faux-religious belief among conservatives: “The only thing certain in life may be death and taxes. Taxes usually go in only one direction. Up. [emphasis mine]” The argument that taxes only go up is an absurdity when you consider recent tax cuts at both the federal and state levels. Actually, a more accurate statement is that the tax burden on the wealthiest people in the country has substantially declined.

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Oklahoma foster care task force is moving full steam ahead

All children are born with the potential for greatness and they deserve every opportunity to make the most of themselves, regardless of the circumstances into which they are born. Children in custody of the Department of Human Services deserve no less, and that’s the premise the Foster Care System Improvement Task Force is operating under as we examine the state’s foster care system and look for ways to improve outcomes for all of Oklahoma’s children. In 2010, there were 8,400 children living in out-of-home care, according to figures from the DHS. As a state, we owe it to these children to keep them safe, healthy and on track to be productive, wage-earning adults. This is not just the duty of DHS workers or foster parents. It takes all of us and the system working together for meaningful change to take place. We encourage individuals to learn more about the task force and participate in our feedback survey at

Read more from NewsOK at


Quote of the Day

There are more poor than ever in Oklahoma and no (extra) money. This is the most challenging dilemma I’ve ever seen.
DHS Director Howard Hendrick

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally on a state scorecard of the quality and capacity of long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities, 2011

Source: AARP

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How big is the long-term debt problem?

Articles about the deficits and the national debt generally talk about unsustainable long-term deficits that will drive the national debt up to a level where scary things happen. Sensible commentators usually acknowledge that our current deficits are a sideshow and the real problems happen in the 2020s and 2030s due to modestly increasing Social Security outlays and rapidly increasing health care spending. I admit that this has generally been my line as well; for example, in a previous post I said that the ten-year deficit problem is entirely a product of extending the Bush tax cuts, but that even if we let them expire things will get worse over the next two decades. But looking at the numbers, it’s not clear that the long-term picture is really that bad.

Read more from The Baseline Scenario at

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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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