Weekly Wonk: Expanding unemployment insurance | Investing in our state’s needs | Envisioning a better Oklahoma for everyone

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

Expanding unemployment insurance to more workers would protect families and Oklahoma’s economy: Immigrants without work authorization were shut out from both federal and state unemployment insurance, despite the fact that they’ve paid millions into the program. In order to support everyday workers, Oklahoma needs to create an excluded workers fund — similar to existing unemployment insurance — specifically for people typically left out of the unemployment system. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]

Balancing state savings versus investments in Oklahoma’s needs (Capitol Update): The Board of Equalization certified $8.7 billion available for appropriation from the General Revenue Fund for Fiscal Year 2024 (beginning July 1, 2023) — an 18.5 percent increase over this year’s certification. One of the questions legislators will be asked to resolve, as Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, put it is, “How much savings is enough?” [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Envisioning a better Oklahoma for everyoneI envision an Oklahoma where our state makes meaningful, sustained investments in our children’s futures. This starts with increasing investments – and decreasing discord – surrounding our entire public education system in both rural and urban communities. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Policy Matters: State, local media vital to Oklahoma’s well-being: Oklahoma’s media landscape has changed significantly due to the rise of social media and the consolidation of media ownership to large, out-of-state corporations. As a result, community newspapers have shuttered, and newsrooms have been downsized. These changes have resulted in fewer reporters watching the statehouse and our city halls and county courthouses statewide. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma: Murray County Community Meeting, Thursday, Jan. 12: Meet your new senator, Jerry Alvord! Share your perspective on the issues that are important to you. Join us for a discussion about advocacy in your community and find out how we can make a difference! Location: Murray County Expo Center in Sulphur. Virtual option will also be available. [Learn more] 

Together Oklahoma: Pontotoc County Community Meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 17: Join us for a discussion about criminal justice in Oklahoma. Share your thoughts and learn about resources and advocacy in your community. Location: East Central University, Foundation Hall East in Ada. [Learn more]

Weekly What’s That

Oklahoma Health Care Authority

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) is a state government agency responsible for administering the state’s Medicaid program. OHCA’s mission is to “responsibly purchase state and federally-funded health care in the most efficient and comprehensive manner possible; to analyze and recommend strategies for optimizing the accessibility and quality of health care; and, to cultivate relationships to improve the health outcomes of Oklahomans.”

The Director of OHCA is appointed and can be replaced by the Governor. Kevin Corbett, appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2019, currently serves as OHCA’s director. The agency is overseen by a nine-member Board, with five appointments made by the Governor and two each by the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem. There are also several advisory board and committees that provide input to the agency.

OHCA had a total budget of $8.1 billion in FY 2021, of which $1.2 billion were state funds appropriated to the agency.

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

Quote of the Week

“It’s a modern version of wealth extraction, treating tribes as lesser entities whose sovereignty can be ignored. And it reduces the money tribal governments can spend on services in their communities, where poverty rates are often higher than in surrounding areas.”

– Maya Srikrishnan, Shannon Shaw Duty and Joaqlin Estus, from the Center for Public Integrity and ICT, who found that many state and local governments infringe on tribal nations’ taxing authority, siphoning billions of dollars in tax revenue from reservations over the past few decades alone. [Center for Public Integrity and ICT / The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle Editorial: Make sure state operations are responsibly funded before considering tax cuts

Anyone want to pay less in state taxes? Well, that’s an easy “yes.”

Who is willing to live with less in state services? Accept reduced highway maintenance? Provide less health and mental health care for people in need? Live with fewer state parks or reduced hours and services? Release more state prisoners earlier?

Legislative leaders told business leaders at a State Chamber public forum last month that tax cuts will get a renewed focus this upcoming legislative session.

The issue is, less state money means less state spending. That’s a reality Oklahoma legislators will face when they reassemble for their annual session in just a few weeks. They will face several proposals to reduce taxes, including a plan approved by the House and blocked by the Senate last year to permanently cut the state’s personal income tax rate by 0.25%.

Cutting taxes certainly sounds appealing, but cutting spending is not so easily accomplished. Plus, once lowered, the tax rate cannot be returned to current levels without a supermajority approval. It’s how we do things in Oklahoma.

Another very responsible part of how we do things in Oklahoma includes balancing the state budget — something the federal government should aspire to do. Unlike leaders in our nation’s capital, Oklahoma’s elected officials must, and do, balance the income and spending each and every year.

So, here’s a “responsible parent” view of how to handle state government finances in 2023-2024: pay your bills before you cut the income. In other words, don’t make a permanent reduction in the state’s income tax until state government functions are responsibly funded. And, don’t just shift the burden to others such as counties, cities or service fees.

Here are some specific needs for funding consideration before cutting taxes:

  • Pay raises for teachers and state employees.
  • Properly funding public education.
  • Making sure counties are paid their share for mental health services as promised when voters passed justice reform.
  • Taking into account the higher cost for just about everything from pavement to prisons.
  • Keeping the Rainy-Day Fund responsibly funded.

Republicans have a supermajority in both the state House and Senate, and a Republican governor is returning for his second term. The GOP is clearly in control. But, as we’ve seen so poignantly from Washington, D.C., not all Republicans agree. Even with an appealing classic Republican theme such as lower taxes and less government, the “wants” and “needs” must be balanced.

Our counsel: Figure out the current and future needs — pay your bills — before approving any permanent income tax rate reduction.

[Read the full editorial from Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • $2.4 million – Amount privately raised for the Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund to provide economic support for immigrants who were unable to receive federal pandemic relief or other financial assistance due to their immigration status. [Tulsa World via Catholic Charities]
  • $13 billion – During the past decade, undocumented workers in the United States have paid an estimated $13 billion in taxes for unemployment insurance trust funds, which they cannot access to due to their employment status. [Fiscal Policy Institute]
  • 22% – The population of people 65 and older in nonmetro areas in the U.S. grew by 22 percent during the 2010-2020 decade.  In 2021, people 65 years and older made up more than 20 percent of the nonmetro population for the first time in U.S. census history, up from 16 percent in 2010. [USDA | Rural America at a Glance, 2022]
  • 75,000 – Estimated number of uninsured children in Oklahoma (2021). [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]

What We’re Reading

  • Providing Unemployment Insurance to Immigrants and Other Excluded Workers: A State Roadmap for Inclusive Benefits: The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and its induced recession underscored the crucial importance of unemployment insurance (UI) to workers, and to the stability of the American economy. Temporary federal expansions of unemployment systems during the pandemic showed how they can quickly be scaled to increase benefit levels and to include categories of workers who were not previously eligible, such as the self-employed, caregivers, and low-wage workers. And, states showed that separate programs can be set up to provide similar benefits to workers who are explicitly excluded from unemployment insurance—in particular immigrants who do not have a documented immigration status. [The Century Foundation]
  • Advocating for American Rescue Plan funding for immigration legal services: Essential workers were crucial in keeping our day-to-day lives going during the height of the pandemic. Immigrant workers stepped up and provided support to their communities through their labor, all while many of them live with undocumented or temporary status in the United States. Advocates say a portion of the American Rescue Plan funds to go toward immigration legal services at the local nonprofit level, is because investing in essential workers during the pandemic should be a top priority. Strengthening the local immigration legal services infrastructure in a community allows immigrants and their family members to have access to low-cost, high-quality immigration application assistance. [UnidosUS]
  • A Policy Renaissance Is Needed for Rural America to Thrive: Almost a century ago, federal policy like the Rural Electrification Act, Title V of the Housing Act and other national-scale development programs helped bring rural America into the modern era, and its contributions helped make the American economy the envy of the world. But today’s federal programs were built for a different era. We need a renaissance of rural policy to enable a renaissance of rural America. [Opinion / New York Times]
  • Medicaid Unwinding Will Begin in April but There’s Good News in Congressional Funding Agreement: Congress has just reached an end of the year funding agreement, and it has very significant implications for the more than 90 million people who rely on Medicaid and CHIP (mostly Medicaid) for their coverage. Approximately 41 million of these people are children – at least half of children in the United States are now covered through Medicaid. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]

On This Day – The War on Poverty, Jan. 8, 1964

On this date 59 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national “war on poverty” to leverage our nation’s resources to ensure that no one would live in poverty in a nation of such great abundance. While progress has been made, much work remains ahead.


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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