In The Know: ‘Put public health over politics’ | Eviction spike feared as mortarium expires | Happy birthday to the minimum wage

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Happy birthday to the minimum wage: The last time the national minimum wage was raised was in 2007, with the wage increase taking effect on July 24, 2009. A minimum wage is meant to ensure a minimum standard of living for each employee — particularly entry-level and low-wage workers. In 2020, more than one million workers nationally earned equal to or less than the minimum wage, and women — particularly Black and Hispanic or Latina women — were the most likely to earn at or below the minimum wage. A strong majority — 7 in 10 — of minimum wage workers are in the service industry. In honor of the 12th anniversary of the $7.25 minimum wage and the thousands of people who rely on it, we wanted to take a look at what life was like back in 2009 and all the ways our world has changed while the minimum wage has remained stagnant. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

OK Policy hosting community listening sessions in Weatherford, Altus: To hear the concerns of everyday Oklahomans, the Oklahoma Policy Institute will be hosting listening sessions in southwestern and western Oklahoma. Two listening sessions are planned at the end of the month in Weatherford and Altus. [OK Policy]

Join the team as a Regional Organizer for Together Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is currently hiring for three regional organizers in Northeast, Southwest, and Central Oklahoma. Under the leadership of OK Policy’s Legislative & Outreach Director, the Regional Organizer provides structured leadership in the development and implementation of community-based advocacy actions that further policy goals identified by OK Policy, and works closely with Together Oklahoma (TOK) chapters, which are composed of volunteers that form OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy arm. Applications for these positions close on August 16, 2021 at 5:00 PM (CST). Click here to learn more and apply.

Oklahoma News

Editorial: Oklahoma Gov. Stitt should put public health over politics: Whether it’s politics, fear, misinformation or complacency as restrictions have eased, consider this: The unvaccinated make up 90% of recent hospitalizations, according to the Oklahoma Health Department. Yet our governor, Kevin Stitt, as if channeling the will of parts of his base, seems content to sit back and let the pandemic run its course, even as the dangerous new delta variant surges across the state. [Editorial / The Oklahoman]

Why vaccinated people are getting ‘breakthrough’ infections: A wedding in Oklahoma leads to 15 vaccinated guests becoming infected with the coronavirus. Raucous Fourth of July celebrations disperse the virus from Provincetown, Mass., to dozens of places across the country, sometimes carried by fully vaccinated celebrants. [New York Times]

  • Oklahoma virus cases again top 1,000, daily average at 875 [AP News]
  • City managers share ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of COVID pandemic [Enid News & Eagle]
  • COVID cases on the rise in Oklahoma [The Lawton Constitution]
  • Oklahomans We’ve Lost: A dedicated nurse who threw Halloween parties and cared for rescue dogs [The Frontier]

Oklahomans fear eviction spike as federal moratorium expires: Thousands of Oklahomans are likely to be forced out of their homes this summer as one of their last safeguards expires. The moratorium, which temporarily halts evictions for unpaid rent, was extended for a third time at the end of June in hopes of keeping people housed while federal funding is still being disbursed. While the moratorium kept some families off the streets, it didn’t protect tenants from piling up months of debt from back rent that will soon be due. [Oklahoma Watch] OK Policy: Turning the tide on evictions: Using federal aid, support to reduce Oklahoma’s eviction crisis

  • Apartment shortage continues as deadline looms [The Journal Record]
  • How Oklahoma evictions might spike after July [The City Sentinel]
  • As moratorium end date looms, state agencies prompt struggling renters to seek out financial aid [KFOR]

Oklahoma is getting $2 billion. How should it be spent?: Oklahoma is about to go on a multi-billion dollar spending spree — but there’s a catch, actually several. Oklahoma, like other states, has already dolled out hundreds of millions of federal dollars on COVID-19 response efforts through Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding that was approved by Congress last year. State leaders, however, have another reservoir of money to spend thanks to a new relief package — the American Rescue Plan Act — that President Joe Biden signed into law in March. [Oklahoma Watch]

Health News

Author of law restricting schools from requiring masks stands behind it: The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 67,000 pediatricians, recommended this week that all students over the age of two wear masks in school, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. The advice comes as the more transmissible delta variant of COVID is on the rise. [Public Radio Tulsa]

More than 135,000 Oklahomans now get benefits under SoonerCare expansion: It’s been three weeks since Oklahomans who applied for SoonerCare under the new expansion could start going to the doctor. A lot of those newly eligible people tried to get SoonerCare in the past but were denied. Health officials said the expansion helps a lot of people who usually fall through the cracks. [News 9]

State Government News

Report: Stitt to name John O’Connor next Oklahoma attorney general: Three years after an American Bar Association committee deemed him “not qualified” for a federal judicial nomination, Tulsa lawyer John O’Connor has been selected by Gov. Kevin Stitt to be Oklahoma’s next attorney general, according to multiple sources and a report in The Oklahoman. [NonDoc] The decision comes after a two-month search in which the governor considered district attorneys, a judge on the Court of Civil Appeals and members of his administration. [The Oklahoman]

Initial unemployment claims plummet more than 50%, lowest this year: The number of initial state unemployment claims dropped more than 50% last week, marking their lowest seven-day total this year, according to a government report. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 3,562 Oklahoma workers filed first-time claims last week, which is fewer than half the revised figure of 7,787 people who filed initial claims the prior week. [Tulsa World]

Gov. Kevin Stitt taps OKC attorney for state appeals court: Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed attorney Gregory Blackwell to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals on Wednesday, choosing him over two judges in southeastern Oklahoma. Blackwell, 43, of Oklahoma City, succeeds P. Thomas Thornbrugh, who retired from the District 3, Office 1 seat in April. No legislative confirmation is required of Stitt’s selection. [The Oklahoman]

Woodward attorney named to OJA Board: Woodward attorney Bart Bouse has been named to the Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs. Bouse started his duties immediately. Speaker of the House of Representatives Charles McCall appointed Bouse to the nine-member board. The board is the rulemaking body for the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA). [Woodward News]

Turnpikes converting to no-cash tolls: The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) will begin converting the state turnpike system to cashless tolling for motorists who normally pay with cash. The conversion away from cash begins on the John Kilpatrick Turnpike in north Oklahoma City on July 25. A trial run has been conducted on one ramp in Jenks on the Creek Turnpike. [Southwest Ledger]

Federal Government News

White House sending $100M to rural health clinics to help boost COVID vaccination rates: As the Delta variant pushes a rise in COVID-19 cases, the White House is sending $100 million to rural health centers to help bring up low vaccination rates. “This funding, made possible by the American Rescue Plan, will provide nearly 2,000 rural health clinics the resources they need to better reach unvaccinated Americans in their communities with information about COVID-19 and the vaccines and answers to their questions,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during a Thursday briefing. [Public Radio Tulsa]

First Congressional District must shrink by 18,000: Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District, which includes most of metropolitan Tulsa, will have to shed about 18,000 people in the current redistricting process, officials say. [Tulsa World]

Inhofe: Oklahoma military bases poised to grow in 2022: All five of Oklahoma’s military installations will remain viable and are poised to grow under the latest annual federal defense appropriation bill, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s office said Thursday. [AP News]

  • Tinker Air Force Base expansion to close two-mile stretch of Douglas Boulevard [The Oklahoman]

Watch Now: Lankford report claims Biden administration is wasting billions by not finishing Trump wall: U.S. Sen. James Lankford fired another round in his border war with the Biden administration on Wednesday, this time in the form of a 36-page report that says the U.S. is spending $3 million a day — and probably more than $2 billion total — not to complete contracts already awarded for construction of former President Donald Trump’s “wall” between the United States and Mexico. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

‘Our history, the way we want it to be told’: Choctaw cultural center opens in Oklahoma: The Choctaw Nation’s new cultural center tells the stories of 600 generations. The space, which opens Friday, embodies the Chahta newvt aya — the Choctaw journey, said center director Stacy Halfmoon. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Policing – public safety reform listening session reveals concerns and pain: Oklahoma City community members expressed their ideas and concerns about policing and public safety reforms during a listening session Wednesday. The event, called “Reimagine Community Policing Listening Session” was held by OKC Councilman James Cooper and State Representative Mauree Turner in Edgemere Park near N.W. 36th and Walker. [OKC Free Press]

Man declared actually innocent in 1990 slaying sues City of Tulsa again: A man’s legal fight against the city of Tulsa over his wrongful conviction and incarceration has moved to federal court after he reached a settlement with the state. Corey Atchison, 50, sued the city of Tulsa July 14 in Tulsa federal court, seeking an unspecified amount of damages after spending 28 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Investment aims to produce more engineers in Oklahoma: The rising aerospace industry and others in Oklahoma will generate demand for more than 3,000 new engineers annually in coming years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has been estimated that more than 400,000 new engineers will be needed annually to meet needs of the nation. [The Journal Record]

OKC ranked among ‘friendliest’ for first-time homebuyers: Oklahoma City ranks highly among cities friendly to first-time homebuyers, according to online loan marketplace LendingTree. [The Journal Record]

Education News

The Source podcast: From shredded documents to a state audit, how did Western Heights schools get here?: State officials stepped in to turn around the struggling southwest Oklahoma City school district, but not without shocking resistance from the local school board. Podcast host and education reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel retells the saga in Western Heights. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Supporters call for Mexican consulate in Oklahoma: Supporters of a permanent Mexican Consulate in Oklahoma are calling on the community to take action. Scissortail Community Development Corporation President Robert Ruiz said opening a Mexican consulate in Oklahoma City would make a big difference for Mexican citizens who are trying to conduct daily business. [News 9]

  • Mayor, sheriff support effort to establish Mexican Consulate in Tulsa [Tulsa World]

Racial violence flared at OKC theme park 50 years ago. Why the tragedy matters today: Easter Sunday was one of the biggest days of the year for the old Springlake Amusement Park, which had hosted a massive egg hunt and used the time to celebrate the opening of another season of family fun in northeast Oklahoma City dating back to the early 1920s. Easter fell on April 12 in 1971. Racial tension was wound tight by years of sit-ins and demonstrations for racial equality met with resistance, apathy or both by much of Oklahoma’s white community. [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“When you’re facing eviction, to people who have never been there, it’s just a piece of paper. But it’s your whole livelihood. It’s like when someone’s hiding around a corner and jumps out and scares you and your heart beats fast. That’s what it feels like, but it never goes away. Your heart never starts resting again, you never catch your breath.”

-Terra Atkins, a volunteer tenant-rights leader with Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods [Oklahoma Watch]

Number of the Day

608,000

Estimated number of Oklahoma workers who would see a wage increase if the minimum wage was raised to $15/hour. This is more than one in three Oklahoma workers.

[Source: CNBC]

Policy Note

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, most of the action is in cities and states, not Congress: Prospects for raising the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 an hour since 2009, appear to have stalled out yet again, despite broad public support for the idea. In truth, though, for the past several years most of the real action on minimum wages has been in states, counties and cities, not on Capitol Hill. [Pew Research Center]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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