In The Know: Unemployment rate falls in Oklahoma metros

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that metro Tulsa’s jobless rate fell to 4.7 percent in April, the lowest level since December 2008, and Oklahoma City’s jobless rate dropped to 4.1 percent, the lowest among the nation’s 49 metros with a population of 1 million or more. Oklahoma Watch reports that the state’s program to subsidize storm shelters is not targeting low-income residents. The Oklahoma Insurance Department says more than 22,000 claims have been filed for property and vehicles damaged by recent tornadoes.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column explains why lawmakers are creating a false choice over the continuation of Insure Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog has a guest post on how the Veterans Health Administration became a leader in American health care, delivering high-quality care at a reasonable cost. A criminal justice policy consulting firm lauded OK Policy’s analysis of Oklahoma’s criminal justice reforms. Due to severe drought, hail, and other weather problems, Oklahoma’s wheat harvest is down 45 percent from last year.

The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahomans enrolled in a government-sponsored health plan. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog shares the most embarrassing graph in the history of drug control policy.

In The News

Unemployment rate falls in Oklahoma metros

Continuing its downward trend this year, metro Tulsa’s jobless rate fell to 4.7 percent in April, the lowest level since December 2008. Last month’s rate fell from 5.3 percent in March and was down from 5.1 percent in April 2012, according to data from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just like Tulsa, the state’s other two metros had lower jobless rates for the month: Oklahoma City’s dropped to 4.1 percent and Lawton’s fell to 5.5 percent, according to data released Wednesday. The Oklahoma City area’s jobless rate was the lowest among the nation’s 49 metros with a population of 1 million or more.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State programs offering storm-shelter grants doesn’t target low-income residents

Residential storm shelters are not cheap, and many low-income people in Oklahoma cannot afford them. That is reinforced by the state’s policy of not offering shelter subsidies based on income or net worth. The grants, which are federal funds, have been given out instead to those who lived in or near official disaster areas or whose names were drawn in a lottery. The state, under federal rules, also doesn’t offer the subsidies to landlords, which means that tenants, who often are low-income, will not have a shelter at home unless their landlord pays the entire cost. Many landlords don’t.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

22,000 insurance claims filed after Okla. tornado

The Oklahoma Insurance Department says more than 22,000 claims have been filed for property and vehicles damaged by tornadoes that struck the state on May 19 and 20. The agency says claims filed so far represent insured losses of at least $85 million. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management says a total of 1,248 structures were destroyed by the tornado. Insurance Commissioner John Doak says the number of tornado damage claims is expected to grow.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Prosperity Policy: A false choice

Last week the Legislature adjourned one week early, even though it had left some major unfinished business. Lawmakers had done nothing to address the plight of some 9,000 low-income working Oklahomans in the Insure Oklahoma program who may lose health insurance at the end of this year. Since 2006, Insure Oklahoma has been a successful and popular Medicaid waiver program that provides premium assistance for low-income workers to buy into their employer’s health insurance. The program currently covers some 30,000 Oklahomans, but is set expire at the end of this year.

Read more from the Journal Record.

How the VA became a leader in American health care

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the nation’s largest health care provider is not a private hospital network or an insurance company – it is the government-run Veterans Health Administration, popularly known as “the VA.” Every year more than 8.3 million veterans receive free or low-cost health care at hundreds of VA medical centers and outpatient clinics, parts of the most extensive integrated health care system in the country. The number of patients served has nearly doubled over the past fifteen years.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Another quality OK Policy Blog piece

We regularly laud the OK Policy Blog as a jewel among the policy-oriented blogs for any state. In a “good government” state and/or a fair world, the whole staff would be driving Beemers and on their third or fourth spouses (spice?) by now. But they work, Sisyphus-like in Oklahoma, and yet still amazingly turn out what ranks as the very best public analysis of state policy in the whole country, IMHO as someone who goes through state news and sites every day (really, pretty sad, isn’t it?). And this post on where OK is on Justice Reinvestment right now (“black hole” is not an inappropriate thought at this point, but it’s not where they go in this piece) is People’s Exhibit A.

Read more from JCO Consulting.

Oklahoma wheat harvest down 45 percent from last year

While the drought continues to ease in eastern portions of the state, it’s still raging in much of western Oklahoma, where the state’s wheat harvest is taking a hit. The Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association recently released its estimate of this year’s wheat crop, which Oklahoma Farm Report summed up with one word: “dismal.” All totaled, Oklahoma producers are expected to harvest 85,583,000 bushels of wheat this year. That’s a 45 percent drop from last year’s harvest of 154.8 million bushels. That’s a big drop, and the drought is partially to blame. But hail, high winds, and even the timing of recent rains contribute.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Quote of the Day

The choice between covering 9,000 low-income Oklahomans or zero is a false choice, rooted in a desire to score points against anything that can be labeled Obamacare. It’s time to put Oklahomans’ health and financial security above politics.

 –OK Policy Director David Blatt, writing in the Journal Record. By refusing to accept federal dollars for Insure Oklahoma, state lawmakers are left debating between shrinking it to cover just 9,000 individuals or ending it altogether. In contrast, accepting federal dollars would help 150,000 Oklahomans gain access to health care at little to no extra cost to the state.

Number of the Day

1.5 million

Number of Oklahomans enrolled in a government-sponsored health plan, including Medicaid (children, seniors, people with disabilities & the very poor), Medicare (seniors), and Tricare (military service members)

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The most embarrassing graph in American drug policy

When it comes to drugs, it’s all about prices. The ability to raise prices is– at least is perceived to be–a critical function of drug control policy. Higher prices discourage young people from using. Higher prices encourage adult users to consume less, to quit sooner, or to seek treatment. (Though higher prices can bring short-term problems, too, as drug users turn to crime to finance their increasingly unaffordable habit.) An enormous law enforcement effort seeks to raise prices at every point in the supply chain from farmers to end-users: Eradicating coca crops in source countries, hindering access to chemicals required for drug production, interdicting smuggling routes internationally and within our borders, street-level police actions against local dealers. That’s why this may be the most embarrassing graph in the history of drug control policy.

Read more from Wonkblog.

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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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