Weekly Wonk: Hospitals strained to breaking point | Evictions as big business | A look at Oklahoma’s latest Census numbers

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

Evictions as big business: Handful of companies responsible for vast majority of Oklahoma eviction filings: Oklahoma’s long-standing eviction crisis has been slowed by the infusion of millions of dollars in rental assistance during the last year and a half. While it’s heartening to see major investments in keeping people housed, the eviction process itself is broken, and we need to make it work better for both tenants and landlords. [Ryan Genztler / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Having a Heart Attack? Take a Number: When you or a loved one experiences a medical emergency, you expect care to be immediately available. Oklahoma’s rising COVID-19 rate, however, has strained our state’s health care system to the breaking point. A person having a heart attack today might as well be facing a “Now Serving” ticket queue as if they were in line for a car tag renewal. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Addressing the social, economic imbalances in Oklahoma’s rental laws (Capitol Update): As with so many things, the COVID pandemic has shined a light on severe inequities resulting from Oklahoma’s rental laws, which consist of the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ORLTA) and Forcible Entry and Detainer actions that are tried in small claims court. The inequities existed before the pandemic, but widespread financial hardship and the inability of governmental processes to get timely help to landlords and tenants is now threatening many who, without a paycheck, can’t make rent and stand to lose their home. The crisis for some has been delayed by the CDC emergency moratorium on evictions, but that will soon go away. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

We’re Hiring

  • (Deadline: Monday, Aug. 23) Regional Organizer for Together Oklahoma, 3 available positions: OK Policy is currently hiring for three regional organizers in Northeast, Southwest, and Central Oklahoma. Regional Organizers provide structured leadership in the development and implementation of community-based advocacy actions that further policy goals identified by OK Policy, and work closely with Together Oklahoma (TOK) chapters, which are composed of volunteers that form OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy arm. Applications close on August 23, 2021 at 5:00 PM (CST). Click here to learn more and apply.
  • (Deadline Extended to Wednesday, Sept. 1) Communications and Operations Fellow: The Communications and Operations Fellow will assist in advancing the organization’s strategic priorities through writing and editing external communications, drafting development-centric communications, and more. Applicants must have graduated in the previous two years from a communications-related academic program or a field of study that relates to OK Policy’s issue areas. Special consideration may be granted to individuals who do not meet these specific qualifications and should be detailed in their cover letter. Applications for this position close on Sept. 1, 2021 at 5:00 PM (CST). Click here to learn more and apply.

Weekly What’s That

Incentive Evaluation Commission

The Incentive Evaluation Commission was created by legislation passed in 2015 “to produce objective evaluations of the State of Oklahoma’s wide array of economic incentives.” The Commission is made up of five members appointed by the Governor, Speaker, and President Pro Tem, along with representatives of the Department of Commerce, Office of Management and Enterprise Services, and Tax Commission.

Under the enabling legislation, every economic inventive must be evaluated once every four years. The Commission contracts with an external research firm to evaluate each incentive on that year’s calendar. During each of its first five years of operation, 2016-2020, the reviews were conducted by PFM Group Consulting LLC. The evaluations are conducted according to a formal set of criteria set out in the enabling legislation, including jobs created, economic output, fiscal impact, and return on investment.  The consultant issues a final report on each incentive with recommendations as to whether the incentive should be retained, retained with modifications, or repealed. The Commission then votes on the recommendations and reports to the Legislature, which may adopt legislation in line with the recommendations.

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

Quote of the Week

“I did not really appreciate the insinuation that he was giving to people that he was going to end the federal benefits because we were lazy, and we’d rather sit at home on our butts than go back to work because we were making more on unemployment. None of these people are slackers. They’re people genuinely caught in the middle who never intended to be.”

-Valerie Killman, an Oklahoma mother of three including a daughter battling bone cancer, who is part of the lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma for its decision to cut off the distribution of additional federal unemployment benefits [The Frontier]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Unemployment benefits ought to be distributed in a straight-forward way

We never liked the idea of turning away federal pandemic-related enhanced unemployment benefits, and now the legality is pending at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

With COVID-19 cases at prevaccine levels and hospitals filling with younger patients, the state needs to reconsider its decision to disband the federal program. The main benefit was a $300 weekly additional payment. Other benefits at stake include extending benefits beyond the traditional 26-week cutoff and providing assistance to people who usually don’t qualify, such as self-employed or gig workers.

In June, Gov. Kevin Stitt disbanded the program, arguing that the extra payments were making it harder for businesses to attract workers. Stitt announced an incentive program that could provide $1,200 to people returning to the workforce, which was a good and positive approach to the same issue. But that program came with eligibility rules and would only cover about 20,000 of the 90,000 people receiving benefits at that time.

Workers are worried about not meeting the strict deadlines to qualify, including employers not hiring fast enough to meet eligibility criteria.

The incentive program also assumes money is the only reason workers don’t accept jobs. Other concerns ranking high when people consider work options include child-care needs, transportation, obligations as a family caregiver and health benefits. Ensuring a safe working environment is part of the equation as workers look at the risk of virus exposure on the job.

An Oklahoma County district judge last week ordered the state to resume unemployment benefits as originally distributed, saying Stitt acted unilaterally without authority or consent from the Board of Commissioners of the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission. An emergency appeal was filed at the state’s high court by Attorney General John O’Connor. The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard the case on Wednesday.

Regardless of the outcome, state leaders need to reassess how the change has affected Oklahomans and other issues that may be in the way.

We believe Oklahomans are willing to work. That shows with the eighth-lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 3.7% as of the end of June. The U.S. rate was at 5.9%.

For those who haven’t found work or for employers frustrated by a lack of applicants, other obstacles may be in the way. This incentive program might not work for them.

More needs to be determined about what is leaving them behind.

Unemployment benefits shouldn’t work like a game show. People who are out of work through no fault of their own should be able to count on their benefits in a straight-forward manner.

[Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 5.5% – Percentage increase of Oklahoma’s overall population between 2010 and 2020 [U.S. Census]
  • -8.6% – Decrease of Oklahoma’s population identifying as white only between 2010 and 2020 [U.S. Census Bureau
  • 12.8% – Percentage increase of Oklahomans who identified as being two or more races during the 2020 Census when compared to 2010. This was the 8th highest increase among U.S. states. The largest increase in non-Hispanic Americans of two or more races was in Oklahoma, followed by Alaska and Arkansas. [U.S. Census Bureau]
  • 16% – Percentage of Oklahomans who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination during the 2020 Census, which was the nation’s second highest such rate behind Alaska. This was a 31 percent increase from the 2010 Census. [U.S. Census Bureau
  • 9.7% – Percentage of Oklahomans who identified as Black alone or in combination during the 2020 Census, an increase of 16.8% from the 2010 Census. [U.S. Census Bureau

What We’re Reading

  • 2020 Census Evaluation Report: Understanding how Oklahomans are doing [OK Policy]
  • The Upcoming Census Redistricting Data Release, Explained [Brennan Center for Justice]
  • Behind the Surprising Jump in Multiracial Americans, Several Theories [New York Times]
  • New 2020 census results show increased diversity countering decade-long declines in America’s white and youth populations [Brookings]
  • Multiracial population grew in almost every county in the US. It doesn’t mean racism is over. [CNN]
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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