In The Know: Report raises questions about CARES Act spending | What the State of the State didn’t address | Assistance program simulator

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

Our new benefits simulator helps families understand assistance programs and helps support better policies: Because public benefits are so complex and interconnected, OK Policy introduced a benefits simulator that provided data for that report. In this piece, we will show how the simulator works, how families can use it to make decisions about applying for and retaining benefits, and how we can improve the assistance programs these families need. The simulator then provides a detailed analysis, both in graphs and data, showing how much assistance a family could receive per month from each assistance program. Additionally, it shows how benefits can change as their work schedule or hourly wage changes. This tool can be invaluable for Oklahomans who want to better judge available assistance for themselves and their families. It also can be a useful tool as they advocate for a stronger, more robust social safety net for themselves and other Oklahomans who need it. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: What was left unsaid: For those who follow Oklahoma politics, the governor’s annual State of the State address can prompt a range of responses from cheering to hand-wringing to even the occasional honest-to-goodness policy discussion. However, instead of focusing too much on what he said, I’d like to focus on the things he didn’t say – namely how our state can help its residents who are struggling the most. [Ahniwake Rose /  Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Report questions Stitt administration’s spending of $1.26B of CARES Act funds: A report from a legislative watchdog office raises questions about how the Stitt administration spent $1.26 billion in federal coronavirus relief. The draft report issued Wednesday by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency criticized the Stitt administration’s handling of CARES Act funds as opaque, marked by shoddy record-keeping and the office warned that some projects may not meet strict federal standards for how coronavirus relief funds could be spent. [The Oklahoman] The huge influx of federal money that came into Oklahoma last year amid the coronavirus pandemic was spent quickly on public health, small business grants and other needs, but a large chunk of it was spent on state agency wishlists and technology upgrades that were only tangentially connected to the pandemic. [Oklahoma Watch] “To date, CARES FORWARD has not provided a single complete set of documentation for any project funded with Coronavirus Relief Funds,” the report states. [Tulsa World]

‘Our fear is great’: People with disabilities feel left out as Oklahoma rolls out COVID-19 vaccine: About eight weeks after Oklahoma started its vaccine rollout, people with developmental disabilities, their caregivers and families are frustrated and disheartened they aren’t being prioritized in the state’s plan. [The Frontier]

State Government News

Senate Floor Leader Kim David clears air with colleagues over Medicaid comments: The influential senator, who has been the body’s most vocal advocate for the implementation of third-party managed Medicaid, did say she spoke with her Republican colleagues and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) after she opined Friday on the reasons some legislators oppose contracting with private entities to manage various parts of the state Medicaid program, called SoonerCare. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Legislature fast tracks virtual meeting exemption: Public bodies in Oklahoma will be able to continue to meet virtually as a coronavirus safety precaution under a bill that was fast tracked Wednesday through the Oklahoma Senate. [AP News] Senate Bill 1031 by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, passed by a vote of 45-0 with no debate. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Senate panel approves 4 abortion bills, rejects 1: An Oklahoma Senate panel approved four anti-abortion bills on Wednesday but defeated one far-reaching abortion measure that would give a fetus equal protection under the law. [AP News] In a rare bipartisan vote, Republican and Democratic members of the committee united to reject Senate Bill 495 from freshman Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain. The bill sought to prohibit all abortions in Oklahoma, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the practice. [The Oklahoman] While rejecting Hamilton’s arguments on SB 495, the committee Republicans did adopt four other measures that, if enacted, would make abortions more difficult or impossible to obtain. [Tulsa World] Outside the committee room, a few dozen anti-abortion activists — including young children — gathered. [KOSU]

Bill to bar shuttering of places of worship during emergencies advances in Oklahoma House: A bill that would bar state and local governments from closing places of worship during emergencies, including for public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, won easy approval from the House State’s Rights Committee on Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Ethics watchdog group calls for Lankford’s recusal from insurrection investigation: An ethics watchdog group is calling on Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), vice chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, to recuse from any investigation into fellow senators for their roles in the Jan. 6th insurrection. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Rep. Tom Cole argues against legislation to strip Greene of committees: Rep. Tom Cole said Wednesday that he was deeply offended by remarks made by Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene but that the Ethics Committee should conduct an inquiry before the House moves to strip her of committee assignments. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Cherokee chief backs right of freedmen descendants to run for tribal office: The Cherokee Nation’s principal chief said he would usually stay out of an election dispute between two candidates for the Tribal Council, but Chuck Hoskin Jr. made an exception Wednesday to describe a recent complaint as “just offensive.” [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Lawsuit seeks OKC police body-cam footage in teenager’s shooting death: An attorney for the mother of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez wrote in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the city is violating state law by failing to release police officers’ body-worn camera recordings of the boy’s “firing squad”-style shooting death. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma man, 22, found dead inside Oklahoma County jail: A 22-year-old man was found dead Wednesday inside his cell in the Oklahoma County Detention Center, the fourth inmate to die in the problem-plagued facility this year, authorities said. [AP News] Overall, eight inmates have died since a trust took over operation of the jail from the sheriff’s office July 1. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Rental assistance on the way for Oklahoma County residents affected by COVID-19 pandemic: More rental assistance is on the way for families in Oklahoma County after officials said they’ve received $8 million to help families affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. [KOCO]

Tulsa metro unemployment dip mirrors decline in workforce: Tulsa metro unemployment dipped from 6.8% in November to 5.9% in December largely due to a decline in the labor force, according to seasonally-adjusted figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Layoffs at Chesapeake: Hundreds cut as bankruptcy process nears end: Chesapeake Energy shed about 15% of its staff this week as it nears the finish line in its bankruptcy process. The decision to layoff 220 workers, mostly from its Oklahoma City headquarters, is tied to ongoing economic factors created by COVID-19 that are impacting demands for oil and natural gas, company officials said. [The Oklahoman]

In 2020, restaurants in OKC, across nation hit hard: According to the report, the restaurant and food-service industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion. By Dec. 1, more than 110,000 establishments closed either temporarily or permanently. The industry also saw 2.5 million fewer food jobs during the pandemic. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma educators are at frontlines of remembering Tulsa Race Massacre: Oklahoma educators are trying to amplify stories like George Monroe’s so the Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t forgotten. And now, 100 years after the fact, educators are taking the time to make sure they’re getting the lessons people need to take from the massacre across. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Meet the candidates for Stephanie Bice’s former Senate seat [The Oklahoman]
  • Cheat Sheet: Meet the candidates for Edmond Ward 3 City Council [NonDoc]
  • In-person early voting for Tulsa County treasurer, other local offices, begins Thursday [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“LOFT discovered a lack of consistent application of processes for data management, incomplete documentation, and a general lack of accessibility and transparency regarding expenditures and decision making.”

-A draft report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency reviewing CARES Act spending in Oklahoma [Tulsa World

Number of the Day


Percentage of books for children and teens published in the United States (2019) that featured a Black primary character. Of those books, only about half were written by Black authors.

[Source: Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison]

Policy Note

Honor and Learn This Black History Month: It’s not an understatement to describe the events of the past year as historic, and particularly for Black Americans. The nation elected its first Black vice president, a woman and a graduate of a historically Black university, and Georgia send its first Black senator to the Capitol. This period also had Black Americans experiencing disproportionate deaths and job losses from Covid-19, police brutality and myriad race-fueled attacks. The killing of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody, ushered in a period of collective reckoning — one that prompted widespread protests, a push for racial justice and a re-examination of the education system’s failure to teach the accurate history of Black and Indigenous people. As Black History Month kicks off, there may not be a physical coming together, but there are numerous cultural events in which to take part. [New York Times]

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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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