Weekly Wonk: A look at tribal-state policy issues | No Oklahoman should go hungry | Capitol Update | More

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

The 2023 legislative session included significant tribal-state bills and a respect for tribal sovereignty from state lawmakers: This year, the Oklahoma legislature recognized tribal governments as self-governing, sovereign entities within the state, passing measures respectful of tribes’ responsibility for the health, safety, and well-being of their respective citizens. Lawmakers supported tribal-state bills with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, but were met with some opposition from the governor’s office. [Vivian Morris / OK Policy]

Updated youth justice campus in Tecumseh provides opportunities for Oklahoma kids (Capitol Update):Auditors recently gave updated Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh near perfect compliance scores. It’s now a place where kids can have their best chance to overcome their troubled past. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Weekly What’s That


Under Section 134 of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), states have the option to make Medicaid benefits available to children with physical or mental disabilities, regardless of family income, and allows children requiring institutional level of services to be cared for in their homes.
There were 1,019 children enrolled in TEFRA as of June 2023.  The program served a total of 1,177 children throughout all of FY 2023 and 1,957 children since its inception in 2005. The state spent $16.4 million on the TEFRA population in SFY 2022 at an average annual cost of $15,715 per enrollee.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“The average wage for a child care worker is $11.40, and most child care businesses do not have the ability to provide health insurance, retirement benefits or anything like that. Most child care is of course a small business, so you’re looking at low pay and no ability to provide health care benefits and retirement benefits. So it’s not a very attractive position in a really tight labor market.”

– Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, who authored House Bill 2451, which would have made employers that help employees with child care expenses eligible for a tax credit. She intends to run a different tax credit bill for child care workers this session. [Journal Record]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Create ways so no Oklahoman will go to bed hungry

The U.S. is the world’s top food supplier, yet 1 in 8 American households experienced hunger last year. That number includes 1 in 5 children in this country who go to bed hungry.

In Oklahoma, where poverty acutely strikes some pockets of the state, the overall food insecurity rate is worse at 15.6% in the state, compared to 12.8% nationally. That means 1 in 7 Oklahomans are not getting enough to eat.

There must be a better way to feed our fellow Americans.

One of the best interventions has been the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The government spent $119.4 billion on SNAP for fiscal year 2022, which is lower than the defense budget ($753 billion), Medicare ($747.2 billion), Medicaid ($591.9 billion) and veterans’ benefits ($161.2 billion).

SNAP allows low-income families to supplement their food budgets. Most recipients are older adults, children, military veterans and disabled people.

For every $1 in SNAP benefits, $1.70 goes back into Oklahoma’s economy through grocers, farmers markets and other locations, says Hunger Free Oklahoma.

SNAP is under constant assault, from fraud claims to efforts for restricting items for purchase. The biggest graft in this U.S. Department of Agriculture program was from outside card-skimmers, not by retailers or recipients (representing less than 1% of fraud).

Limiting what low-income people should buy is elitist. Trust that people know how to make their dollar stretch to best meet their needs. Small government is better in this case.

Oklahoma hasn’t done well to get eligible people enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. A USDA report out earlier this month found only 51.7% of eligible Oklahomans are participating.

Changes in the way school free-and-reduced-lunch programs operate open up possibilities for children. Kids cannot learn and cannot properly develop if they are hungry.

The USDA has changed its rules around the program to capture more children at-risk of hunger, but it requires state and local buy-in.

States moving toward universal school meal programs include Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont, Michigan, California, Maine and Massachusetts. States are leveraging federal money with state investments to ensure all children are properly fed.

This approach eliminates school lunch debt and stigma around the discounted meal programs. Some districts have worked to do this, including Tulsa Public Schools covering meals for all its elementary sites.

We’re encouraged by Oklahoma lawmakers, such as Republican Rep. Jeff Boatman and Democrat Rep. John Waldron, who are pushing for more ways the state can help feed more children.

Partnerships are forming streamline food donations. Smaller efforts are underway to teach skills like cooking and food budgeting to youth. More could be done for expansion.

Hunger has far-reaching consequences, and proper nutrition is a way to overall well-being. As Oklahomans eat better, health outcomes fare better.

[Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 28% – Percentage of Native American children in Oklahoma who have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Latine children had the highest rate at 30%, while white children had the lowest rate at 19%. [KIDS COUNT]
  • $56.8 million – Amount the State of Oklahoma received from tribal-state tobacco compacts during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. [State of Oklahoma / Annual Comprehensive Financial Report]
  • 16% – The health care and social assistance industry was the largest industry among families who were eligible for the federal Child Tax Credit in 2021. At 16%, this was the largest industry among Oklahoma’s eligible recipients, followed by retail trade and manufacturing at 10% each. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

What We’re Reading

  • The History of Thanksgiving from the Native American PerspectiveThere are always two sides to a story. Unfortunately, when it comes to the history of Thanksgiving, generations of Americans have been taught a one-sided history in homes and schools. The dominant cultural and historical story has been told from the perspective of the European colonialists who landed near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620. In this version o]f the Thanksgiving story, the holiday commemorates the peaceful, friendly meeting of English settlers and the Wampanoag tribe for three days of feasting and Thanksgiving in 1621. Every year, news outlets and social media are a-buzz with Thanksgiving themes. There is little coverage of the fact that November is Native American Heritage Month or that the day after Thanksgiving, known to most as Black Friday, is Native American Heritage Day. [Native Hope]
  • What is Tribal Sovereignty (Video Explainer): Tribal sovereignty is a phrase you might have heard, but what does it really mean? In this video created by Native Governance Center and the Minnesota Humanities Center, you’ll learn about how Tribes exert their sovereignty to govern their citizens and why sovereignty matters. [Native Governance Center]
  • The Return on Investing in Children: The federal government invests more than $500 billion annually in children through direct cash payments, including tax credits, and in-kind goods such as childcare, education, food subsidies, and healthcare coverage. This represents about 10 percent of the federal budget. Research shows these investments, which are often used to combat poverty, can have large short- and long-term payoffs for the children receiving the benefits and society at large. Though the payoff of any one investment can be difficult to assess, strong evidence suggests that investments that reduce poverty and direct resources at very young children have particularly high returns. [Tax Policy Center]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.