In The Know: Overcrowding of DHS shelters for children violates state law

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.

The number of abused and neglected children being kept at Oklahoma’s two state-run shelters has soared this past year in violation of Oklahoma law. A national child welfare expert was shocked that Oklahoma has babies in its shelters. Oklahoma has decreased child welfare spending since 2006, and the state spends only about 60 percent as much per child as states with similar populations. Last year, Oklahoma’s youth suicide rate was 31 percent higher than the national rate, and cuts to mental health services resulted in a dramatic increase in calls to the state’s suicide hotline.

Meanwhile, Gov. Fallin is continuing to push for a huge income tax cut. Dale Wares writes why those predicting the tax cut can pay for itself would have failed Economics 101. See more on this issue at OK Policy’s tax reform information page.

The state paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a mother who hid her young girl after DHS workers rejected her concerns the girl had been molested. In the past three months, the state has paid almost $1 million to settle lawsuits involving DHS. Because of a new law, 130 sex offenders will be evicted from a ministry-run trailer park that was helping them transition to life after prison. An estimated 11,000 compulsive gamblers have been banned from casinos throughout the state as part of a strategy to curb addictive gambling.

Oklahoma state workers have gone nearly 6 years without a pay increase. Oklahoma City is looking into what it can do to restore transparency of who spends money on local elections. The Boston Globe profiles how Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was influenced by growing up in Oklahoma. The Guardian looks at an Oklahoma bill on evolution and climate change that is part of a renewed anti-science assault on U.S. schools.

The Number of the Day is how many people die on average each day in Oklahoma from an injury inflicted by a firearm. In today’s Policy Note, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy explains why Arthur Laffer’s claim that n0-income tax states are doing better than other states is junk economics.

In The News

Overcrowding of DHS shelters for children violates state law

DHS officials have been violating state law and endangering the lives of dozens of abused and neglected children by placing them in Oklahoma City’s overcrowded state shelter, documents reveal. “The overcrowding of this facility creates a serious and immediate risk to the lives and life safety and welfare to all occupants and residents,” a state fire marshal’s agent wrote following a May 31 inspection of the overcapacity Pauline E. Mayer Children’s Shelter in Oklahoma City. “I don’t like it,” said state Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa. Peters was author of a 2009 state law that directed the Department of Human Services to dramatically reduce the populations of its Oklahoma City and Tulsa shelters to no more than 25 each. “I think they’ve ignored the law and are doing what they want to do,” Peters said. Deborah Smith, director of DHS’s children and family services division, insisted her agency is not intentionally ignoring the law. The problem is children must be removed from homes when their safety is in imminent danger and Oklahoma doesn’t have enough foster homes to place them, she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Oklahoma children’s shelters worry national child welfare experts from NewsOK

State lacking in child welfare, foster care programs

Emergency foster-care shelters are vastly overused in Oklahoma, which also spends less on child welfare programs than states of similar child populations, according to officials from a national nonprofit dedicated to advocating for families. About 60 percent of Oklahoma’s budget on child welfare comes from the federal government, with the state picking up the rest. The federal amount is based on poverty rates and requires a state match. Oklahoma has decreased child-welfare spending since 2006, going from $248.4 million to $244.2 million, according to DHS. Oklahoma spends $270 per child, compared to the lowest of South Carolina at $196 per child and the highest of $849 per child in Connecticut, which also spends the most money on its system of about $686 million. Other states with similar child population sizes included Iowa at $488 per child, Oregon ($468) and Kentucky ($408).

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services takes $36.6M hit

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has taken a $36.6 million funding cut over the last three years. State appropriations have dropped from $209.6 million in FY09 to $183.1 million in FY12. That amounts to a $26.5 million reduction. Additionally, the agency has less one-time funding available, reduced federal block grant awards, and maintenance costs have gone unfunded. Those budget hits account for the other $10.1 million in lost revenues. A year ago, ODMHSAS wrote suicide rates in Oklahoma were rising at a rate 38 percent above national rates, and the state’s youth suicide rate was 31 percent higher than the national rate. Cuts in mental health services during fiscal year 2010 have resulted in a dramatic increase in calls to the state’s suicide hotline, ODMHSAS wrote.

Read more from the Enid News & Eagle.

See also: Gov. Mary Fallin: Tax proposal is a game-changer for Oklahoma from NewsOK

Not time to experiment with state taxes

While I’ll grant that there is some stimulatory effect from cutting taxes, whoever is doing the fiscal projections showing that growth stemming from the additional money in circulation will replace the lost revenue failed Economics 101. Maybe because two-thirds of Oklahomans will see a tax increase the state will be able to balance the budget, but that’s not exactly the bill of goods we’re being sold. These are the folks who spend the extra money they receive from the earned income tax credit and the sales tax relief credit. People like me in the top one-third are less likely to spend the extra income. Let’s say I get an extra $100 due to revised tax liability. Even if I spend the whole amount, the state revenue only amounts to $4.50 in sales tax for the state. You have to be extremely rosy in your economic projections to produce a scenario where that $4.50 magically transforms itself into enough revenue to replace that $100 the state gave me. But the reality is that people in my tax bracket don’t spend the extra money. We invest it and probably not in Oklahoma.

Read more from The Norman Transcript.

Oklahoma pays $300,000 to settle federal lawsuit against DHS

The state of Oklahoma has paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a mother who hid her young girl after DHS workers rejected her concerns the girl had been molested. The unusual case attracted national attention — at first while the mother and girl were missing and then after the mother went to jail for refusing to reveal the girl’s whereabouts. The mother, who grew up in Muldrow, said in a jail interview in 2005 that she was protecting her girl from further sexual abuse. “I would sit here until I die if I have to,” she told The Oklahoman in 2005. She and her daughter now live together in Van Buren, Ark. Her ex-husband — the girl’s father — has given up his parental rights.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma law change will put 130 sex offenders out of ministry-run trailer park

John R. Beaver served almost nine years in prison. When he was released three months ago, he didn’t have enough money to pay the $16 fee for his birth certificate. Beaver, 32, is one of about 130 members of a gated Oklahoma City mobile home park who will be kicked out of his home in less than six months under a law that take effect July 1. The law prohibits sex offenders from living together. The Rev. David Nichols founded Hand Up Ministries in 1996 to help convicted felons transition to life after prison. It evolved to a program that houses mostly sex offenders because of the many restrictions on where they can live. Beaver said the help from Hand Up Ministries is the only thing keeping him off the streets, back to a life selling drugs. The ministry lent him the money to get a copy of his birth certificate. Then he could get an ID and found temporary work at a construction site.

Read more from NewsOK.

11,000 problem gamblers banned from Oklahoma casinos

An estimated 11,000 compulsive gamblers are banned from casinos and gaming centers throughout the state as part of a strategy to curb addictive gambling among Oklahomans, officials said. The Tulsa World sought the number of banned and self-excluded individuals barred from entering casinos and gaming centers. The World asked for figures from the Osage, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) Nations and other tribes, with gaming compacts with the state. Meanwhile, counselors and recovering gamblers interviewed by the Tulsa World said that compulsive gambling is an addiction with a similar progression of drug or alcohol addiction.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma state workers near 6 years since pay increase

Jess Callahan, a state social worker who helps provide services to the elderly, blind and disabled in Choctaw County, hasn’t seen a pay raise since 2006, and he’s not alone. Since Oklahoma felt the ripple effects of a national recession in recent years and saw its state budget decimated by a dip in energy prices, the state’s roughly 35,000 state workers have not received a pay hike since a $2,000 across-the-board raise went into effect in 2006. “If you think about how much things have risen in cost — gasoline, the price of food — it’s all risen in the last five or six years, while state worker salaries have remained stagnant,” said Callahan, whose wife left the Oklahoma Department of Human Services more than a year ago and took a better paying job in the private sector. “There have been other colleagues of mine who have left and found that the grass was greener in the private sector in pay, and even in some cases benefits.”

Read more from the Associated Press.

OKC attorney looks into election spending disclosure

The Oklahoma City attorney will look into what the Oklahoma City Council could do to shine light on those who spend money on influencing local elections, if the state Legislature chooses to give it that power. But loopholes, conflicts of interest and other roadblocks could mean spenders remain in the shadows no matter what the council does. Councilmen Pete White and Ed Shadid have expressed worry the anonymity fosters irresponsible spending and scares off potential candidates for local office. They’ve been publicly supported by some of their colleagues in exploring ways to force donors to political action committees (PACs) that spend to influence local elections to identify themselves. But state’s current law regarding election spending, the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act, doesn’t afford local governments that power and was formulated decades before PACs surfaced as major political finance machines.

Read more from NewsOK.

A girl who soared, but longed to belong

The father and daughter had an unspoken arrangement. Her classmates would not see the car. He would drop her off a block away from Northwest Classen High School, so they wouldn’t notice that things had “gone down.’’ For a teenage Elizabeth Warren, then known as Liz Herring, the old off-white Studebaker was the most tangible sign that her family was struggling to maintain the trappings of middle-class life that marked Oklahoma City in the early 1960s. The air-conditioned bronze Oldsmobile that had once ferried her to high school was gone – lost when the family stopped making payments after her father had a heart attack and got demoted to a job that paid much less. Her mother had gone back to work to keep the family afloat, but she resented having to do so and wasn’t shy about saying so. Money, or the want of it, was suddenly a source of pain, acid in the air.

Read more from the Boston Globe.

The new anti-science assault on U.S. schools

They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we’ve heard before. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of “the religion of evolution.” But there are a couple of new twists that make this same-old story more interesting than usual. The Oklahoma bill isn’t properly speaking just an “anti-evolution” bill; it is just as opposed to the “theory” of “global warming”. These and other bills aim their rhetoric at “scientific controversies” in plural, and one of the New Hampshire bills does not even bother to specify which controversies it has in mind. The convergence here is, to some degree, cultural. It just so happens that the people who don’t like evolution are often the same ones who don’t want to hear about climate change. But we also cannot overlook the fact is that there is a lot more money at stake in the climate science debate than in the evolution wars.

Read more from The Guardian.

Quote of the Day

An experienced child welfare person shudders to even think about that, to tell you the truth. That’s how out-of-date it is.
John Mattingly, former head of New York City’s child welfare system, speaking about Oklahoma’s child shelters

Number of the Day


Number of people who die on average each day in Oklahoma from an injury inflicted by a firearm.

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Don’t Be Fooled by Junk Economics

With the economy lagging, lawmakers seeking to reduce or eliminate state personal income taxes are touting their proposals as tools for boosting economic growth. Of particular note are the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma, both of whom justified income tax repeal in their State of the State speeches by claiming that states not levying personal income taxes are outperforming those levying their taxes at the highest rates. These claims are based largely on misleading analyses generated by Arthur Laffer, long-time spokesman of a supply-side economic theory that President George H. W. Bush once called “voodoo economics” because of its bizarre insistence that tax cuts very often lead to higher revenues. Recently, Laffer’s consulting firm has been very successful (with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) in spreading the talking point that the nine states without personal income taxes have economies that far outperform those in the nine states with the highest top tax rates. In reality, however, residents of “high rate” income tax states are actually experiencing economic conditions at least as good, if not better, than those living in states lacking a personal income tax.

Read more from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

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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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