In The Know: Stitt granted emergency powers, but budget fix stalled over digitization project funding; and more

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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

State budget fix stalled as Stitt nixes meeting after project denied funding by Legislature: A fight Monday over money for a government modernization effort that is one of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s personal priorities apparently threatens a patch to the COVID-19-induced leak in the state’s budget. According to several sources, Stitt abruptly canceled a state equalization board meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday because he learned three bills passed a few hours earlier by the House of Representatives excluded the modernization project from the planned budget fix. [Tulsa World] In the end, the Legislature’s upper chamber accepted the bills advanced by its lower chamber without addressing — for now — the governor’s desire to retain the full $15 million approved for digital transformation of state government last year. [NonDoc] Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, said funding for digital transformation initiatives was not the only item specifically excluded, and that there has been collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch up to this point. [The Oklahoman]

Deaths triple in one week, but mortality rate shows little change: The number of deaths in Oklahoma from COVID-19 tripled in a week, but the mortality rate from confirmed cases of the disease remained under 4%, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Health Department. [The Oklahoman] As of Monday, the state department reported 51 deaths, 340 hospitalizations, and 1,327 cases of COVID-19. [Tulsa World]

Private lab reports give clearer picture of scope of COVID-19 testing in Oklahoma: Data released Sunday to The Frontier brings Oklahoma closer to clearing up one of the major coronavirus questions in the state — just how many people have been tested for the virus? [The Frontier] When Oklahoma’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on March 6, there were already hundreds of cases nationwide and hot spots were beginning to emerge in other states. Not considered a priority by the federal government, Oklahoma was issued a minimal amount of the reagents necessary to run a coronavirus test. [The FrontierVisit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

Double-whammy: Hospitals face dilemma of furloughs amid COVID-19 needed care: Not only must frontline medical professionals combat the dangerous disease, but administrators are faced with dwindling revenues as clinic patients choose to stay home and the state’s moratorium for elective procedures continues. [Tulsa World]

Central Oklahoma hospitals working together to prepare for COVID-19 surge: Spurred to action by fear of a potential surging tsunami of central Oklahoma COVID-19 cases, doctors and administrators at Oklahoma hospitals have been scrambling to develop contingency plans they hope they never have to use. [The Oklahoman]

‘I’ve heard stories that will bring tears to your eyes’: Tulsa doctor starts project to round up masks, PPE for health care workers: As a way to support her under-equipped colleagues in the COVID-19 pandemic fight, Amy Emerson, a Tulsa pediatrician and medical adviser for Tulsa Educare, recently started the Collect to Protect initiative. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma official demands more PPE for first responders: Wagoner County Representative Kevin McDugle is hopeful for a new shipment of gear Monday after receiving a disappointing shipment Friday. McDugle said the county received 4,000 masks to split between 18 counties and three cities, which left barely enough gear to protect their first responders. [KTUL]

Volunteers sought for Medical Reserve Corps during COVID-19 pandemic: Health officials are trying to bolster volunteers to the Medical Reserve Corps ahead of an anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and a prolonged response to the disease. [Tulsa World] According to 24/7 Wall St., Oklahoma has the fifth fewest doctors, according to a primary care doctor to population ratio. [FOX25]

Federal judge partially blocks Oklahoma’s ban on most abortions amid COVID-19: A federal judge on Monday partially and temporarily blocked Oklahoma’s ban on most abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the state had acted in an “unreasonable” and “oppressive” way by restricting abortion access. [The Frontier] In an order, Federal Judge Charles Goodwin said the state is not allowed to effectively deny women access to an abortion during the COVID-19 health crisis. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

State cuts Medicaid rates for medical equipment amid COVID-19 pandemic: On March 30, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority approved rate cuts to medical equipment that could affect rural residents on Soonercare as well as medical equipment providers during this coronavirus crisis and beyond. The state of Oklahoma is tied for second among states with the highest rate of uninsured people. [KFOR]

Oklahoma Human Services to issue emergency relief payments to foster families: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services will begin issuing emergency relief payments to foster parents in early April. [KTUL]

Federal Government News

Federal money available for Oklahoma public safety agencies dealing with coronavirus: The U.S. Justice Department is offering state, municipal and tribal public safety agencies across the country money to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Oklahoma agencies could get more than $11 million to pay for agencies’ response to the coronavirus. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Department of Corrections says all inmates now on lockdown to slow spread of COVID-19: All inmates in state facilities are on lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, the state Department of Corrections announced Monday. This move comes three days after it was announced a Corrections Department staffer tested positive for COVID-19. The employee worked at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington. [The Oklahoman] Nine Oklahoma organizations have come together to ask state officials to take urgent action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma Corrections facilities. 

Oklahoma County decreases jail population to lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading: The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office says they’ve been working for over a month to bring down the jail population to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spreading. [KFOR]

Oklahoma County Jail Trust hires a chief financial officer: The Oklahoma County Jail Trust hired a chief financial officer during its first teleconference meeting amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday. Mark McCubbin, with Camden Consulting LLC., will serve as a contracted employee getting paid $7,500 per month “for three-quarter time work based on a 40-hour week,” according to the approved contract. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma sheriff: ‘Get yours and your kids’ burial policy paid up’ if you won’t stay away from crowds: An Oklahoma sheriff has a warning for those not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. Choctaw County Sheriff Terry Park is vocal on his Facebook page about the public following guidelines from the Centers for Disease and Control, such as social distancing. [WWLP]

Economy & Business News

Downturn could be ‘brutal’ for commercial real estate market: Past downturns can give some insight to what recovery might look like for Oklahoma City’s commercial real estate sector once COVID-19 loosens its grip on the economy. When that will be is the question market analysts do not yet know how to answer. [The Journal Record]

Tulsa Regional Chamber lays off more than 20% of its staff: The organization that communities throughout northeast Oklahoma rely on to help attract and nurture businesses has itself been forced to lay off employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tulsa World]

Hundreds of small business, nonprofits apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans at area banks: Friday was the initial day small businesses and sole proprietorships could apply for loans through the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Administration program that authorizes forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. [Tulsa World]

Hunger Free Oklahoma raises money to keep restaurants open, feed families in Tulsa: Hunger Free Oklahoma is keeping local restaurants open, while feeding families around Tulsa during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group has raised almost $1 million for the project called Tulsa Kitchens Unite. [KTUL]

Economic Opportunity

Tens of thousands file for unemployment in one week: Nearly 69,000 Oklahomans filed initial claims for unemployment compensation during the week ending April 4. The estimate is a preliminary, unofficial sum of claims taken online at and over the phone at 1-800-555-1554, according to Robin Roberson, executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. [The Oklahoman]

More than 1,000 evictions filed since statewide emergency declared in Oklahoma: The nonprofit Oklahoma Policy Institute reports 1,137 evictions have been filed in Oklahoma since mid-March and there have been nearly 159 foreclosures. Those numbers are as of April 1. The evictions and foreclosure notices were filed after a statewide emergency was declared and evictions were suspended due to the coronavirus. [KOSU] OK Policy: Policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Education News

COVID-19 could undo Tulsa school district’s efforts to prevent $20 million deficit next year: COVID-19’s economic impact on the state could put Tulsa Public Schools on track to enter 2020-21 another $20 million in the hole after it just created a massive plan to reduce its budget by that amount. [Tulsa World]

Schools roll out distance learning: School districts had about two weeks to figure out how they would educate students without in-person instruction. The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s legal team worked around the clock last week to review plans from more than 500 school districts. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Tulsa QuikTrip store employee dies of coronavirus, company says in email: A22-year-old employee of Tulsa-based convenience store chain QuikTrip died last week after contracting COVID-19, according to an email sent by QuikTrip CEO Chet Cadieux III which was obtained by The Frontier. [The Frontier] Sauz, known as “Izzy” to some, was a night assistant manager at the QuikTrip at 1022 S. Utica Ave., and his death raised panic and outrage among fellow employees and some customers. [Tulsa World]

Poll: Oklahomans support staying home, but how long?: Oklahomans are willing to stay “safer at home” for a while, but that resolve could weaken the longer the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, according to a poll released Sunday. Amber Integrated surveyed 500 likely Oklahoma voters April 1 and April 2, finding that 86 percent of respondents said they were sheltering in place. Further, 85 percent of those surveyed support Gov. Kevin Stitt’s “safer-at-home” policy that has closed non-essential businesses and ordered older citizens to stay at home. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma County has first state 18-35 age group COVID-19 death [Free Press OKC]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools provides meals to over 200,000 students in two weeks [FOX25]
  • OKC council members to host COVID-19 response tele-town hall Tuesday [The Oklahoman]
  • 9 more COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County, bringing total to 249 [KTUL]
  • Stillwater Public Schools announces change in meal services for students [FOX25]
  • City Of Guthrie makes face masks in public mandatory, implements ‘shelter in place’ [News9]
  • Muskogee Co. Health Department now offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing [NewsOn6]
  • Enid City Commission to hold virtual meeting [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Stephen County Commissioners meeting focuses on COVID-19 testing [Duncan Banner]

Quote of the Day

“That’s completely up to (the Governor) as to whether he signs or vetoes those bills. We thought it was important not to harm education, health care or roads and bridges. Ultimately, that power resides in the governor’s office to sign or veto those bills.”

-Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-OKC, speaking about the bipartisan budget bills passed during Monday’s special session [NonDoc

Number of the Day

$1.15 billion

Estimated annual increase in federal funding Oklahoma would receive from Medicaid expansion

[Source: Families USA]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Newly unemployed may not see expanded benefits for weeks: Reports of systems crashing, busy phone lines and other problems filing claims have surfaced across the country, including in New York, Florida, Maryland and Oregon. Some states still process unemployment claims on computer systems that are decades-old and using antiquated coding languages. [The Hill]

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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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