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
Oklahomans need common-sense tax reform: Fairness is a fundamental tenet of most Oklahomans’ beliefs: People should get equal pay for equal work and kids should have equal opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately, the state’s current tax system does not reflect this priority. Rather, our tax system asks too much from low- and middle-income Oklahomans, while letting higher-earners off the hook. While discussions of tax reform have increased in recent months, they haven’t been focused on making the state’s tax system fairer. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
- From OK Policy: A Better Path Forward: A Budget and Tax Roadmap for Oklahoma
Excluded in the Expansion: The persisting gaps in health care coverage for immigrant Oklahomans: Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma has allowed more than 300,000 residents to enroll for health care, but almost 82,000 Oklahomans who are immigrants remain uninsured. Since the mid-1990s, many immigrants are either partially or entirely ineligible for federal public benefits programs, including Medicaid. As a result, noncitizen immigrants are significantly more likely than citizens to be uninsured, leaving them at risk of serious illness and with limited options for preventative care. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]
It’s time for action to address Oklahoma’s eviction crisis: Evictions are skyrocketing in some areas of Oklahoma, part of a nationwide crisis in affordable housing. In several counties across the state, including Canadian and Oklahoma counties, evictions in the first half of 2022 were at an all-time high. With the last rental assistance program having closed applications on August 31, the state’s eviction crisis has no clear short-term relief in sight. During the next legislative session, state lawmakers can improve protections for renters against unfair evictions, but the larger housing crisis will take bold federal and state efforts to fix. [Ryan Gentzler / OK Policy]
LOFT report shares opportunities to coordinate state’s behavioral health services (Capitol Update): An interesting behavioral health report was presented last week to the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) Oversight Committee, a joint House-Senate Committee chaired by their respective Appropriations Chairs. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]
Policy Matters: More protections needed for Oklahoma renters: Safe and stable housing is one of the most essential sources of security to health and well-being. Yet for too many Oklahomans, this stability has been hard to achieve due to rising housing and rent costs, the pervasiveness of low-wage jobs, and the lack of affordable housing. Policy solutions – and the political will to implement them – can help Oklahoma families keep safe and secure rental housing. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]
Save Our Democracy: VOTE! | Sept. 20 online event to highlight Oklahoma’s voter registration activities: Together Oklahoma, the grassroots advocacy program for OK Policy, will host a virtual event on Sept. 20 to highlight voter registration activities across the state as part of National Voter Registration Day. “Save Our Democracy: Vote!” will be livestreamed on Tuesday, Sept. 20, via the Together Oklahoma website (TogetherOK.org), the OK Policy website (okpolicy.org), and the social media channels for both organizations. [Together Oklahoma]
Weekly What’s That
Earned Income Tax Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit that subsidizes work for low-income families. The EITC is the nation’s largest cash or near cash assistance program after the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Together with the Child Tax Credit, the EITC lifted about 7.5 million people out of poverty in 2019, including about 4 million children, according to the US Census Bureau.
The amount of EITC depends on a family’s earnings and number of children; the maximum credit in 2022 was $6,164 for a family with two children. The federal EITC is refundable, which means the full amount can be claimed even if it exceeds a taxpayer’s tax liability. Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to still reward work and support families even if workers pay little income tax.
Quote of the Week
“It’s a horrible problem we’re facing. We just bury our heads in the sand and don’t give people needed protections. It’s not a fair fight. The landlord has all the power and the tenant has none.”
– Attorney Richard Klinge, director of the Pro-Bono Housing Eviction Assistance Program, speaking about the lack of legal protections for tenants in Oklahoma. [The Frontier] | From OK Policy: Oklahoma should work towards true housing equity
Editorial of the Week
Stillwater News Press: An Introduction to Suppression
With an opportunity to stand up for teachers, it’s almost incredulous to see a handful of legislators siding with the Secretary of Education who asked the state school board to remove a former Norman teacher’s certificate.
Most well know the story of Summer Boismier, the sharing of a public library scanner code, a resignation and the media hoopla that followed.
Sec. Ryan Walters saw the opportunity to drum up some free campaign capital and called for her teaching certificate. A few weeks later, 14 state lawmakers are asking the state school board to investigate whether a law was broken. We already know how unfair and incomplete those investigations are.
The lawmakers are accusing Boismier of “admitting” she “willfully” broke the law.
Wrong, an all accounts, really.
Boismier did make a show of covering up some books and provided a code for an online library.
Neither of those things are violations of House Bill 1775. For one, she wasn’t actually instructing or teaching a lesson, and the things she has admitted to doing don’t come anywhere close to teaching that one race is better than another, or promote guilt or shame or any of the other arbitrarily impossible to control things in the bill.
In a news release, the lawmakers write that Boismier claimed she “willingly broke the law.” They’re pointing to things Boismier said during a TV interview with Fox’s Wendy Suares.
Boismier, as you might guess, never admitted to breaking any law. She did saw she shared the code and would do so again, and said it might be tough to get employment as a “walking HB 1775 violation.”
It’s a stretch, even for politicians.
The legislators acknowledge this but still want a pound of flesh.
“While it is unclear whether HB1775 itself was violated, the school district did determine the teacher violated district policy and used her classroom to make personal political statements and displays,” the release reads.
So, what lawmakers are doing is going beyond the law and asking the state school board to punish free expression.
These legislators are taking a side that believes the First Amendment somehow ends at the classroom door.
Boismier, who was just pointing out how vague and potentially harmful these Oklahoma laws are, has been proven right every step of the way.
It’s quite the lesson.
Numbers of the Day
- 2:1 – The poorest Oklahomans pay more than double their share of income in taxes compared to the wealthiest Oklahomans. Taxes represent 13.2% of share of family income for the lowest 20% of Oklahoma earners, while taxes represent 6.2% of family income for the state’s top 1%. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
- 65% – Rate that immigrants are covered by health insurance, compared with 87% for the U.S.-born population. [State Demographics Data | migrationpolicy.org]
- 6 – Oklahoma is one of only six states without state laws that prohibit landlord retaliation for reporting health and safety violations about unsafe living conditions. [Nolo]
- 31.8% – Percentage increase of eviction filings in Oklahoma County from January to July 2022, when compared with the same period during 2019 before the pandemic. [Open Justice Oklahoma]
What We’re Reading
- Low Tax for Whom? Oklahoma is a “Low Tax State” Overall, But Not for Families Living in Poverty: State legislators often lock themselves into a race to the bottom in pursuit of being labeled a “low tax state.” Analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau appears to lend support to Oklahoma’s reputation as a “low tax state.” But this narrow lens does not provide a full picture, as it overlooks the fact that Oklahoma’s tax system has vastly different impacts on taxpayers at different income levels. For low-income families, Oklahoma is far from being a low tax state; in fact, it is the fifth highest-tax state in the country for low-income families. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
- Access to health care is one more obstacle for undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma: Undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma subsist on the edge, not only in terms of finding jobs and places to live, but also in gaining access to basic, continuing medical care. [Oklahoma Watch via The Oklahoman]
- One Year After Eviction Moratorium Ends, Renters Face Affordability Crisis: Eviction filings have returned to pre-pandemic levels and, in some places, even exceeded them. Although the job market has mostly rebounded from the early days of the pandemic, inflation and skyrocketing rent prices have pushed many renters deeper into a financial hole. The labor market is recovering, but around 15% of renters are behind on rent—a persistently high number. In the latest Realtor.com report, the median price for rent across the country jumped by 12.3% in July from July 2021 and was up by 23.2% from July 2020. [Forbes Advisor]
- Case By Case: A Study of Oklahoma’s Eviction Courts and a Path Toward Equity: Housing courts in our state often failed to serve many Oklahomans but especially our most vulnerable citizens: the elderly and parents with children. These issues arose from various places, including overcrowded dockets, geographic inequality, underused mediation, and inconsistent applications of the Landlord Tenant Act. But we have the tools to improve, and we know how to use them. Enhanced filing requirements, judicial training, investments in mediation, and commonsense changes to the Landlord Tenant Act can improve both equity and efficiency in our housing courts. [Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation]