Weekly Wonk: COVID-19 leave can protect communities | Interim study of court funding | Mental health

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

Policy Matters: COVID-19 leave supports employees, protects communities: The COVID-19 virus does more than just sicken one individual. It directly affects every member of the person’s immediate family, their loved ones, and their workplace. Business owners can support employees with ill family members by offering them paid family leave to help ensure families can recover safely. This also can mitigate the virus’s spread in our communities. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy]

Interim study examines using fines and fees to fund court operations (Capitol Update): Last week Rep. Chris Kannady, R-OKC, Chairman of the Judiciary-Civil Committee, held an interim study hosted by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, on the issue of excessive court costs, fees, and assessments in criminal cases. When fines and fees are added up, just the costs on a misdemeanor case might be upwards of $1,000, and a felony, even a nonviolent offense, can be twice that. It’s not unusual for people who are charged with multiple offenses from the same incident to owe thousands in costs, some in the tens of thousands. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Weekly What’s That

FQHCs (Federally-Qualified Health Centers)

Federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) are community health centers that meet certain qualifications and are thus eligible for certain grants. FQHCs must serve an underserved area or population, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, have an ongoing quality assurance program, and have a patient-majority board of directors. FQHCs provide services regardless of ability to pay or immigration status. In Oklahoma, 22 FQHCs operate in more than 90 locations; they served more than 220,000 patients in 2017.

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

Quote of the Week

“(Jails are) the de facto mental health facilities in Oklahoma, and if that doesn’t cause you embarrassment, shame, all those negative feelings, it should. Because it means we’ve said mental illness means absolutely nothing in the state of Oklahoma.”

-Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

COVID-19 relief helped people during tough times

The COVID-19 relief bills approved by Congress last year and signed into law by then-President Donald Trump did their job.

The expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus payments, approved after the economy cratered last year, had a positive effect on the poverty rate in the United States.

While the official poverty rate increased 1 percentage point last year, according to the Census Bureau, the supplemental poverty measure decreased by 2.6 percentage points, dropping below the 2019 pre-pandemic level.

The supplemental poverty measure includes government benefit programs and stimulus payments. According to the Census Bureau, the stimulus payments helped move 11.7 million people out of poverty, while increased jobless benefits kept another 5.5 million from falling into poverty.

We all remember what happened last year. In the midst of the pandemic, employers cut 22.4 million jobs in March and April. Suddenly, a lot of people needed help and needed it quickly. That’s where the government stepped up with the jobless benefits and the stimulus payments.

The help came at a steep cost, though. The five bills passed in response to the pandemic had a price tag of $3.5 trillion. That kind of spending isn’t sustainable.

And, the assistance wasn’t permanent. It helped people last year, but that was it. The long-term issues remain. Poverty still is a problem in the United States. More than 37 million people, 11.4% of Americans, are living in poverty.

That is something the government still will need to address.

[Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • 33% – No more than 33 percent of court debt assessed in Oklahoma has ever been collected in a given year [OK Policy]
  • 44% – Percentage of people in locally run jails who have been diagnosed with a mental illness [U.S. Department of Justice]
  • -5.7% – Percentage of job losses in low-wage industries from February 2020 to August 2021, which is four times higher than the -3.5% average job loss across all pay ranges [CBPP]
  • $5.7 billion – Estimated cost of preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations from June to August in 2021 [Kaiser Family Foundation]
  • 11.9% – Percentage of Oklahomans who identified as Hispanic during the 2020 Census. [U.S. Census Bureau]

What We’re Reading

NOTE: National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Each week, OK Policy will share policy notes and numbers to recognize this commemoration.


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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