Weekly Wonk: Allocating ARPA funds | 2022 Legislative Priorities | People Have the Power event, Nov. 30

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

We’re Hiring! Join the team as a Data Analyst: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is currently hiring for a Data Analyst to carry out critical data-driven research projects, using the Open Justice Oklahoma database to turn court, prison, and jail administrative records into data that supports efforts to create a more open and equitable justice system. Applications for this position close on January 4, 2022 at 5:00 PM (CST). [OK Policy]

Lawmakers moving deliberately in allocating ARPA funds (Capitol Update): Most every group that provides services paid for fully or in-part by state government is enormously interested in the impending distribution of the $1.87 billion coming to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The funds will be allocated over a two-year period and must be spent by 2024. The funding could be transformational for state and local governments, and the ARPA requirements are very broad. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy Unveils Policy Priorities for 2022 Legislative Session: Based on feedback from residents statewide, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has developed legislative policy priorities for the upcoming 2022 legislative session that can help Oklahomans live healthier, raise thriving families, and ensure the safety of their communities. [OK Policy]

Upcoming Opportunities

Nov. 30 ‘People Have the Power’ event to feature national speaker: Together Oklahoma, the grassroots advocacy program for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, will host a virtual and in-person event on Nov. 30 designed to support and empower advocates statewide featuring a keynote address by a nationally renowned speaker. People Have the Power: Preserving Democracy Through Participation will be livestreamed starting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 30, via the Together Oklahoma website (TogetherOK.org) and the OK Policy website (okpolicy.org) and the organizations’ social media channels. [Miguel Rios / OK Policy]

Quote of the Week

“The future of our nation rests on our ability to work together from the good of all; we must be able to see past partisanship and politics, and ensure that every family in our nation has a real shot at a better future.”

-Frederick Isasi, Executive Director of Families USA (FUSA) – one of the country’s leading nonpartisan, nonprofit health care advocacy organizations – who will deliver the keynote speech for Together Oklahoma’s Nov. 30 People Have the Power: Preserving Democracy Through Participation event that will be livestreamed starting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 30. [OK Policy] | [Event Information]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Grim milestone in drug overdose deaths demands action

The nation reached a terrible milestone over the past year, with health officials noting that the U.S. saw more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths between May 2020 and April 2021 — a grim record that should alarm everyone.

The national figures represent a startling 30% increase in overdose deaths from the previous year, a drastic acceleration of a longstanding trend. Overdose deaths topped those caused by car crashes, gun violence, flu and pneumonia and were nearly as deadly as diabetes, the nation’s No. 7 killer.

Oklahoma has not been immune. The state saw 798 people die from drug overdoses in the same 12-month period, an increase of 20% from the previous 12 months.

The reasons for this surge are many. The opioid crisis — one in which powerful prescription pain medications fueled a full-blown addiction epidemic — kicked off a wave of overdose deaths.

In more recent years, fentanyl — a highly potent and addictive drug — has made its presence felt. The drug can be taken by itself or mixed with other drugs, and its abuse has been cited as one of the main reasons this plague of overdose deaths is sweeping the country.

The mixing of fentanyl with illegal substances, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, is a prime reason overdose deaths attributed to those two drugs are also on the rise.

Health officials also noted another underlying cause for this steep increase in drug-related fatalities: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stress caused by the pandemic — loss of jobs, loss of life, isolation and so forth — has caused what Dr. Jason Beaman, executive director of Oklahoma State University’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery, called “a despair epidemic.”

That in turn has caused far too many people to turn to drugs to cope.

Health officials predict that 2021 could bring even worse figures, as the underlying causes of drug overdoses have not abated.

The good news is that in Oklahoma, progress is being made in responding to this crisis.

State officials wisely gave the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services wider latitude to make sure inpatient and outpatient drug treatment is available.

Wait times for treatment as long as six months have been cut down dramatically, with many treatment centers able to offer near-immediate appointments.

Far more needs to be done. Law enforcement needs continued support to combat drug trafficking. Local, state and federal authorities must redouble their efforts to end the pandemic. Public health agencies and private health care providers need more support from the government to thwart substance abuse and treat addiction.

Many issues loom large at the state Legislature and in Congress. We’d urge policymakers to place this deadly crisis high on their list of priorities.

[Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 6.5% – Percentage of persons eligible for criminal record expungement who actually access expungement relief [OK Policy]
  • 50th – The national rank, including Washington, D.C.,  for Oklahoma’s state health system overall performance for whites, with only Mississippi ranking lower. Oklahoma’s state health care system ranked last (38th of 38 states with reportable data) for overall performance for Blacks, 39th out of 42 for Latinx , and 5th out of 13 for American Indians/Alaska Natives. [Commonwealth Fund]
  • 16% – Percentage of Oklahomans who report being American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity. Oklahoma has the nation’s second rate for this population, behind only Alaska at 21.9% [U.S. Census Bureau

What We’re Reading

Note: November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. 


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.

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