In 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.
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Today you should know that the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is faced with cutting millions worth of services after lawmakers left a $20 million hole in the agency’s budget. Amid a crowd of more than 200 people who came out to protest the change, the agency proposed tightening the criteria for which adults and children can receive psychotherapy rehabilitation services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is planning a 7.75 percent rate cut for Medicaid providers to close its budget shortfall. OK Policy previously explained how Oklahoma’s failure to adequately fund Medicaid and mental health is leading to serious health care cuts.
On the OK Policy Blog, we explained how lawmakers may have illegally taken funds out of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program to balance next year’s budget. House Minority Leader Scott Inman said he is asking state Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rule on the constitutionality of the maneuver. NPR reported on a successful program at Tulsa Community College to offer free tuition and fees for three years to Tulsa County high school graduates. President Obama’s executive order capping student loan payments at no more than 10 percent of monthly income could reduce payments for more than 52,000 Oklahomans.
The Morton Comprehensive Health Center is expanding a facility in east Tulsa to offer free pregnancy testing, pregnancy care, family planning and other services for women. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how the extremist fringe will continue to get its way in Oklahoma so long as the Republicans are more frightened of losing primaries to the far right than they are of losing general elections to Democrats. A Republican running for House District 91 in Oklahoma City is getting notoriety for comments endorsing stoning gay people to death.
More than 600 people are training in Tulsa this summer with Teach for America. They will enter the classroom after just five weeks of training. Oklahoma ranked fourth in real gross domestic product growth in 2013, with the biggest growth coming from oil and natural gas industries. City leaders in Pawnee have approved an emergency plan to drill two new wells to help boost the town’s water supply. Families can start getting energy-efficient light bulbs when they visit the food bank in a new program by the PSO utility company. Oklahoma oil and natural gas industry groups are suing the federal government over a decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma borrowers that began repaying federal student loans in FY 2011 and defaulted within two years. In today’s Policy Note, a new report from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center shows the uninsured rate in Minnesota has fallen by more than 40 percent since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion started. Most of the reduction in uninsured is due to an infusion of federal funds for Medicaid, which Oklahoma has refused.
In The News
Oklahoma mental health services struggling with $20 million cuts
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is faced with a major budget crisis. After finding a $20 million hole in next year’s budget, the department is forced to cut millions worth of services. Today a public forum was held. It was to get feedback on exactly what services will hit the chopping block. One by one they talked while the Medical Advisory Committee listened. Vurnita Long says, “I do not want my children to be a menace to society.” Eric Ward says, “They went from honor roll student to making F`s. Now my kids are back honor roll students.” They’re trying to convince them to help decision makers change their minds about cutting $20 million from mental and behavioral health rehabilitation programs. Ward says, “It feels like they don’t care.”
See also: Medicaid on the chopping block from the OK Policy blog.
Oklahoma mental health agency’s budget cuts serve as launching pad for fierce debate
Amid a crowd of more than 200 people Wednesday, mental health providers fiercely debated the impact that a proposed Medicaid change will have on some of the poorest children and adults in the state. In an attempt to balance the agency’s budget, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has proposed tightening the criteria for which adults and children can receive psychotherapy rehabilitation services, a type of mental health service that the agency’s leaders argue isn’t evidence-based for all patients. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s medical advisory committee members discussed the proposed rule change at its Wednesday meeting, among more than 200 people in the audience, many of whom voiced their concerns for and against the proposal during the public comment segment of the meeting.
Health Care Authority To Recommend 7.75% Provider Rate Cuts
Oklahoma Health Care Authority officials said Wednesday the agency will likely look at cuts to provider rates in the state beginning in the upcoming fiscal year. OHCA spokeswoman Jennie Melendez said the agency has recommended a 7.75 percent provider rate cut, decreasing the amount of money that it reimburses medical professionals for the health care services they provide. OHCA will go into FY2015 with a flat budget, after receiving a $47.7 million supplemental for this fiscal year and a nearly identical cut for the upcoming fiscal year. The flat budget is a relief to the agency who was facing the possibility of a 5.5 percent cut and the possibility of looking at cutting provider rates up to 14 percent.
Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise
In building next year’s budget, legislative leaders and Governor Mary Fallin faced the challenge of starting with nearly $200 million less revenue than this year. Ultimately, the FY 2015 budget ended up at nearly the same amount as this year. In order to get the numbers to balance, the budget agreement scrounged together nearly $300 million in one-time revenue from nearly 30 different funds, including cash reserves, agency revolving funds and other state funds (see the full list here). The use of one-time revenues to fund ongoing budgetary obligations has drawn concern from OK Policy, Treasurer Ken Miller, and others, particularly for building automatic holes into future year budgets. There has been less attention paid to whether the use of these one-time revenues for general appropriations was legal or constitutional.
Democrats charge Republicans illegally cut Oklahoma scholarship program
The Oklahoma House of Representatives’ top Democrat on Wednesday questioned the apparent diversion of $7.9 million from a college scholarship fund for low- and middle-income students to the state’s General Fund. Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he is asking state Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rule on the constitutionality of the maneuver, which helped the Republican-controlled Legislature offset a $188 million drop in revenue. “The Legislature broke its promise to thousands of Oklahoma college students this year, and we think that was unconstitutional as well as immoral,” Inman said in a press release.
College For Free: Tulsa’s Radical Idea
The average cost of one college year across all degree-granting intuitions in the U.S. was more than $19,000 in 2012, and we don’t need to tell you what direction the price is heading. Which means lots of students are now borrowing heavily to make college work. President Obama threw some of them a lifeline earlier this week, with revisions to the government’s Pay As You Earn Program. But the promise of some — emphasis on “some” — student loan relief down the road isn’t enticement enough for many kids to spend big on a college education. The fact is, lots of them have simply been priced out of higher ed. But what if the first two years of college could be tuition-free, for everyone? We know what you’re thinking. Impossible. Inconceivable. And the word that so often means the end before the beginning of big education ideas: expensive. Well, the people of Tulsa, Oklahoma beg to differ.
Student debt: Thousands of Oklahomans could benefit from changes
When Sean Butcher successfully rehabilitated his defaulted student loan debt last November, he breathed a sigh of relief before quickly realizing that his problems were not exactly behind him. He found that nine months of putting nearly every penny possible into the loans had turned what had originally been $32,000 in debt into just less than $30,000. His credit score had been docked severely, and he discovered that the default now showed up on background checks, nearly costing him a job opportunity. Despite getting caught up, Butcher, who graduated from Northeastern State University in 2010 with a business management degree, said he still pays more than $500 per month to his student loans. When President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday allowing borrowers to pay no more than 10 percent of their monthly income in student loan payments, he had people like Butcher in mind.
Morton Health Center expands women health services to include pregnancy tests, family planning
Morton Comprehensive Health Center is expanding its Women’s Health and Teen Friendly primary care services in east Tulsa. Starting June 20, the facility will offer free pregnancy testing, pregnancy care, family planning and other services for women at its East Tulsa Family and Health Center, 11511 East 21st Street. “We wanted to be an impact on the health services that we already,” Morton Health Center Chief Nursing Officer Cassie Clayton said. “We want to be a part of changing the health grade card in Oklahoma.” Morton Health experts say they want to decrease unintended pregnancies.
No great surprise
Last week Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 3399, the bill that repeals Common Core and leaves Oklahoma to develop its own educational standards over the coming years. She approved the bill despite several weeks of intense lobbying against it from the business community. Her decision provoked strong and understandable dismay, but it should not have come as a surprise. The coalition urging a veto of HB 3399 included the Tulsa- and Oklahoma City-area chambers of commerce, the State Chamber, the Oklahoma Business and Education Council, and other business groups, along with the state associations of school administrators and school board members. Urging repeal were local and national tea party organizations and grass-roots activists loudly denouncing Common Core as a nefarious expansion of federal government control.
Oklahoma Tea Party Candidate Supports Stoning Gay People to Death
Given how savagely anti-gay the mainstream Oklahoma Republican party is, it’s no surprise that the state’s Tea Partiers are so rabidly hateful that they come across more as dark satire than as serious bigots. To wit: This week, an Oklahoma magazine discovered that last summer, Tea Party state House candidate Scott Esk endorsed stoning gay people to death: “I think we would be totally in the right to do it,” he said in a Facebook post. Esk went on to add nuance to his position: “That [stoning gay people to death] goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”
Summer Training For Teach For America Underway In Tulsa
More than 600 people are training in Tulsa this summer to be classroom teachers. They’re recruits from Teach for America and they’ll be plugged into classrooms all over the country. Bell Elementary in Tulsa is one of the teacher training sites. While none of the teachers in training will teach at that school, it’s part of the strategy to bring in fresh ideas to the classroom. Wednesday was the third day of training for the handful of people in Teach for America. This week they learned to write lesson plans for math and reading, but next week they will be leading instruction for 800 students.
Oklahoma Ranks Fourth In 2013 Real GDP Growth
Oklahoma ranked fourth in real gross domestic product growth in 2013, according to new data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Oklahoma’s real gross domestic product grew 4.2 percent in 2013. That was behind only North Dakota, 9.7 percent; Wyoming, 7.6 percent; and West Virginia, 5.1 percent. Real gross domestic product is an inflation adjusted measure of each state’s gross product that is based on national prices for the goods and services produced in the state. The data shows the mining industry, which includes the oil and natural gas industries, played a key role in the top state’s economic growth.
Pawnee to Drill New Wells to Boost Water Supply
City leaders in Pawnee have approved an emergency plan to drill two new wells to help boost the town’s water supply. The Pawnee City Council declared a state of emergency Tuesday and approved spending $270,000 for the new wells. The city relies on Pawnee Lake for its water supply, and lake levels have continued to drop over the past few years. Mayor Brad Sewell tells Tulsa television station KOTV that the new wells will supplement the water supply — not replace the lake as the city’s primary source of water. Sewell says work will likely begin later this month on the two wells, with a completion date planned for late July or early August.
PSO Begins Energy-Efficient Bulb Donation Through “Shine A Light” Program
Needy families can start getting energy-efficient light bulbs when they visit the food bank. More than 45 percent of people served by Oklahoma food banks have to choose between paying utility bills and buying food. Dawn Casey with PSO said the company is trying to help those families not make that choice through its Shine A Light program with bulbs that last longer and use less energy. “We’ll be donating up to 75,000 Energy Star–certified compact florescent light bulbs,” Casey said. “The community food bank will be receiving about 55,000 of those.”
Oklahoma oil industry groups join federal lawsuit over lesser prairie chicken listing
The oil and natural gas industry is pushing back against the federal government’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Oklahoma’s two largest industry groups joined two of the nation’s largest oil and gas trade associations Friday in suing the U.S Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, arguing the agency did not consider the best available science in deciding to protect the bird, which is a species of grouse. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, does not challenge the agency’s decision to endorse extensive voluntary conservation efforts that have been developed by the industry and states that already are working to protect the lesser prairie chicken, officials said.
Quote of the Day
“Extortion is a criminal offense in which you obtain money, property or services from a person, entity or organization through coercion. How would this not meet that definition, where we are being told ‘we want to be in your city, we think we would do very well, we don’t need the incentive to make the store work, but if you don’t pay the 3.5 million, we’ll have to look at one of your competing suburbs?’ That would imply harm. To me, that is extortion.”
– Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, speaking about Oklahoma City’s negotiations to pay $3.5 million in incentives to sporting goods chain Cabela’s (Source: http://bit.ly/1uXh7AV)
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma borrowers that began repaying federal student loans in FY 2011 and defaulted within two years.
Source: US Department of Education.
Obamacare cut Minnesota’s uninsured rate by 40 percent
The uninsured rate in Minnesota has fallen by more than 40 percent since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion started, a new report from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center shows. The analysis appears to be the first assessment of how a state’s uninsured rate has changed since the insurance expansion began in October. It shows that, between September 2013 and May 2014, the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell from 445,000 to about 264,500. Most of the increase in coverage was through public programs, rather than people gaining private insurance through the exchange.
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