In The Know: DHS doesn’t have the funding, staff for heating assistance

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

DHS: We don’t have the funding, staff for heating assistance: After a mild start to fall, temperatures in Oklahoma have begun to drop, leaving people reaching for their thermostats. This season, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services says, it won’t be able to help all of people who need assistance with their heating bills. DHS spokesperson Mark Beutler said DHS is no longer accepting in-person applications for the program at county offices. People who need assistance can apply online [Fox 25].

Low pay is handicapping state agencies: Oklahoma’s state employees are really struggling to survive. Those whose salaries used to be just enough to keep them out of poverty have now gone a decade without a raise. An alarming number of our state’s workers have to accept welfare assistance from the federal government to feed their families. Their children get free and reduced price lunches at school. This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was donated by a local charity [Sean Wallace / Tulsa World].

Highway trooper cutbacks make Oklahoma roads less safe, a toll to be counted in lives lost: Here’s the latest evidence that the state of Oklahoma doesn’t have enough money to supply fundamental state services: The Department of Public Safety announced last week that it has limited state troopers to traveling 100 miles a day. Normally, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers would travel 150 to 200 miles a day in their ordinary patrols, but because the DPS budget is falling short in a drastic way, the OHP has ordered cutbacks [Tulsa World Editorial Board].

Biggest threat to low-income families in generation: Next year’s Congress has plans to make fundamental changes to the cornerstones of America’s safety net – Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). The plan by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Price would gut the basic promise of Medicaid and SNAP – that all Americans who are eligible and apply for benefits are guaranteed to receive them. Instead, these programs would be converted to block grants, under which states would get fixed pots of federal money and sweeping flexibility to restrict eligibility, cut benefits and redirect funding to pet projects [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Oklahoma House announces leadership appointments for 56th Legislature: The Oklahoma House of Representative Speaker-designate has announced leadership appointments for the 56th Legislature. Speaker-designate Charles A. McCall announced that Rep. Jon Echols will serve as majority floor leader. State Rep. Leslie Osborne has been tapped to serve as chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee. She is the first Republican woman to lead the House budget committee [Fox 25].

Trigger Warning: Legislature sets itself up for another ill-timed income tax cut: This time last year, Oklahoma was in the middle of a massive budget crisis. As revenues came in below projections, the state twice made across-the-board budget cuts that hit our schools, health care, roads, and other key building blocks of our economy. Then the Legislature came into session facing a $1.3 billion shortfall, which led to even deeper cuts. In the midst of this agony, another tax cut took effect at the start of this year — adding at least $150 million to the budget hole and ensuring that critical services were slashed more deeply than would have been necessary without the tax cut [OK Policy].

Earned Income Tax Credit legislation to be filed by NW OKC lawmaker: Legislation that would restore the earned income tax credit to its previous levels will be filed soon by newly-elected state Rep. Collin Walke. Senate Bill 1604 approved last year by the Legislature and signed by Governor Fallin cut the tax credit’s benefit for low-income working families by nearly 75 percent. The bill, one of several measures intended to help close a $1.3 billion state budget gap, will increase state income tax collections by an estimated $29 million [Tahlequah Daily Press]. SB 1604 devastated a key tax credit for Oklahoma working families [OK Policy].

Approach to ’85 percent’ crimes is one challenge for Oklahoma criminal justice panel: It will be interesting to see what recommendations are made by a task force that’s been working on criminal justice reform since July. One thing that seems evident is that Oklahoma’s list of “85 percent” crimes won’t be getting much shorter. These crimes require offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before they can be considered for parole. The original list of crimes, which were the product of a 1997 bill called the Truth in Sentencing Act, related to violent offenders and numbered in the single digits [The Oklahoman Editorial Board].

It’s time to properly fund state’s prison system: Oklahoma’s Board of Corrections recently approved a $1.65 billion budget request for fiscal year 2018. That’s something I can get on board with. Our prison system is in dire need of repair. Corrections facilities are literally crumbling away with age, and as a state, we’re sitting on our hands and watching it happen. Every time a cell’s lock fails, people are at risk [Rep. Bobby Cleveland / NewsOK].

GOP lawmaker calls for GOP schools superintendent to resign: More than a month after Oklahoma schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was indicted for conspiracy in an alleged illegal fundraising scheme, a Republican state representative is calling for her to resign. Rep. Kevin Calvey said Thursday that Hofmeister, who is also a Republican, is presumed innocent, but questioned whether lawmakers would trust her to lead the state education department with criminal charges pending against her. Hofmeister was charged Nov. 3 with violating state campaign finance laws in order to illegally fund negative ads during her 2014 campaign for the Republican nomination for schools superintendent against then-Superintendent Janet Barresi. Hofmeister defeated Barresi in the primary [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Economist Suggests Ways to Pay for Teacher Raises: Support for giving Oklahoma’s teachers a raise is high, but proposals on how to pay for it are in short supply. At least one lawmaker has gone so far as to tell his colleagues not to file teacher pay raise bills if they don’t have an identified funding source. One potential source is Oklahoma’s sales tax, which was created for a goods-based economy. OSU economist Dan Rickman said that worked 50 years ago, but now we have a service-based economy [Public Radio Tulsa].

Oklahoma Medicaid agency looks at how to connect members to drug treatment: The state Medicaid agency will revamp its pharmacy lock-in program early next year, with a focus on making the program less punitive and more preventive. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, started its pharmacy lock-in program in 2014 for Medicaid members who are at a high risk for prescription drug abuse and overdose. The program locks a SoonerCare member flagged as high risk into only filling prescriptions for controlled substances, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, at one specific pharmacy [NewsOK].

Measure offers state women better health care: A measure signed by the governor last session requiring health-care providers to give notice to women who might have an increased risk of breast cancer went into effect on Nov. 1. House Bill 2601, which I authored, was a big win for the women of Oklahoma and our state. We became the 26th state to pass density reporting legislation, and we did so with overwhelming support by both the House and the Senate. Oklahoma will now put into practice dialogue with health-care providers about a woman’s personalized breast screening [Rep. Mike Ritze / Tulsa World].

Recent law changes target repeat DUI offenders: In a state known for strict laws for drunk driving, a gap existed allowing some drivers to steer clear from records of convictions. In the case where a driving under the influence (DUI) complaint was filed in a nonrecord municipal court, a municipal judge heard the arrest as a first offense, regardless of whether the driver had been arrested or convicted of previous impaired driving charges. Often, a driver walked away from municipal court agreeing to pay a fine, but without any alcohol-abuse assessment or alcohol conviction on their record [Oklahoma Gazette].

Trump’s Nomination of Pruitt to Lead EPA Triggers Divisive Reactions From Industry and Environmentalists: President-elect Donald Trump has picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt made a name for himself fighting against the very federal agency he is poised to lead, and the pick is seen by many as a clear signal that Trump intends to dismantle the environmental legacy of President Obama. Oklahoma’s attorney general is a vocal and persistent critic of the EPA and he has accused the federal agency of carrying out the Obama Administration’s “activist agenda.” [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Quote of the Day

“Legislators do not just employ a single executive assistant, but more than 30,000 state workers who want them to accept responsibility and be good employers. Oklahoma state workers deserve lawmakers’ respect and support. They deserve a meaningful and significant pay increase in 2017.”

-Sean Wallace, policy director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, arguing for pay raises for state employees. Most state employees have gone a decade or more without one (Source)

Number of the Day


Percent of patient care assistants employed by the state government that leave within their first year of employment

Source: Oklahoma Public Employees Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Is Juvenile Justice Beyond Repair? The Youth First Initiative wants to help end the use of youth prisons. The justice-advocacy group works from the premise that detaining minors—whether in youth facilities or in prisons—is not just a poorly executed practice; it is simply beyond repair. “This model of incarceration is broken—it does not work,” says Liz Ryan, the president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative. “It actually has never worked.” The United States has been incarcerating child offenders for a couple hundred years without any indication that it benefits children or society [The Atlantic].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

One thought on “In The Know: DHS doesn’t have the funding, staff for heating assistance

  1. The legal scholar John Pfaff has been arguing for a few years now that the two major driver of prison population increases in states and counties are DAs and counties that don’t have to pay for the budget consequences of their decisions, using the state credit card to fund visions of justice [sic] that would undoubtedly be much different if they had to pay their own freight. Since DAs are the drivers of what ultimately gets charged (felony or misdemeanor) and of what sentences will be bargained from (length, disposition, conditions, etc.) and since they derive their positions, prestige, and political power from the existing system which reformers want to change, then their inclusion on the policymaking boards [sic] such as that now once again spewing in OK is simply a commitment to weak reform that they will accept. At best. One could reasonably conclude that the purpose of such a body is to divert and weaken reform, not to enact better policies that will produce better public safety outcomes than the overincarceration mistakes that OK DAs have subverted sentencing policy reform with since the mid-1990s. You won’t find a better example of that than the word vomit coming from state DAs over “85% crimes” that demonstrably have not had better impacts on crime rates than less punitive policies enacted in other states with lower crime and incarceration rates. The real travesty is not that they are once again hurling this dog’s dinner of nonsense. It’s that they were given yet another opportunity to do so. OK showed itself and the nation the value of circumventing its DAs with initiatives that take votes directly to the state’s citizens. So let’s not pretend this latest silliness is anything but and let’s just let them play their games while we put our efforts into the next round of initiatives. (And getting Speaker Steele to run for governor to make them stick!!)

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