Supporting The Safety Net: Examining Poverty In Oklahoma (KGOU)

 By Brian Hardzinski and Kurt Gwartney

You can click through to the original article hear the entire “Poverty and the Safety Net” panel discussion moderated by Linda Edmondson at our Summer Policy Institute. 

Census Bureau data released in September show that one in six Oklahomans were a part of a family falling below the poverty line – $19,090 for a three-person household. The figures analyzed by the Oklahoma Policy Institute show 23.8 percent of Oklahoma children live in poverty, an increase of 1.7 percent over the last five years.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, helped feed 615,000 Oklahomans in 2012. Eileen Bradshaw, the Executive Director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, says there’s a tightrope to walk between having enough food, but also finding food with high nutritional quality.

“I had one of my partner programs call me saying, ‘You’re killing me with fresh produce. Bring back the canned green beans, because I don’t have the refrigeration,’” Bradshaw says. “And then I had somebody say, ‘You’re killing America with your canned green beans. Give us more fresh produce.’”

Former House Speaker Kris Steele (R-Shawnee) now serves as the Executive Director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), a nonprofit specializing in reducing poverty, unemployment and homelessness in the greater Oklahoma City area.

Steele said the stereotype that those impacted by poverty are lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to learn is a myth.

“Most individuals who are impacted by poverty are very intelligent and adapt at surviving,” Steele says. “They are able to knit resources together, they know where those resources exist, and how to access those resources so they can make it through another day.”

Steele and Bradshaw spoke on a panel addressing poverty and the safety net during the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Summer Policy Institute.


Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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