Weekly Wonk: Leveraging relief funds to improve child well-being | Lifting children out of poverty | Health care resources

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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.

This Week from OK Policy

Oklahoma’s children deserve better: Leveraging federal aid and policy solutions to improve child well-being: From school and child care closings to economic disruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed many gaps within our state’s systems that support children and families. As we look toward recovery, it will be important to develop equitable strategies that benefit the individuals and families most harmed by the pandemic. While Oklahoma state leadership failed to enact many policies during the pandemic that would protect the most vulnerable Oklahomans, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will allow the state to address some of its residents’ most critical needs. Signed into law in March 2021, ARPA builds on previous pandemic relief efforts and is designed to provide aid to states, localities, territories, and tribal nations to fill revenue holes, address needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and help the learning needs of students. [Gabrielle Jacobi / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Lifting Oklahoma children out of poverty: Among the many provisions from this spring’s federal pandemic relief package, no single measure will do more to help our children escape poverty – even if only temporarily – than the expanded Child Tax Credit, which will start being dispersed to American families Thursday. In Oklahoma, 1 in 5 of our children live below the poverty level, which is just under $26,000 a year for a family with two adults and two children. The extended child tax credit is expected to lift more than 60,000 Oklahoma children out of poverty for even a little while. Policy watchers have noted this assistance can have positive impacts on health, food and housing security, educational outcomes, and much more. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News Report InDepth – 2021 KIDS COUNT Report: Gabrielle Jacobi, OK Policy’s Child Well-Being Policy Analyst, participated in a discussion about the state of Oklahoma’s children following the recent release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT report, which showed Oklahoma ranked 42nd nationally for overall child well-being. OK Policy is the Oklahoma affiliate for KIDS COUNT. [Oklahoma News Report / OETA]  

Medicaid expansion coverage starts in Oklahoma (Capitol Update): The citizens who organized, advocated, and voted for Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma saw a major milestone achieved on July 1 when the new law that was placed into the constitution by voters last year went into effect. Now anyone aged 19-64, previously ineligible for health care coverage under Medicaid, can sign up and receive benefits if they do not exceed the income and asset limits. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has estimated more than 200,000 people previously ineligible will now qualify. To its credit, the legislature approved a budget of $164 million in funding for the expansion. Ninety percent of the cost is paid for by the federal government. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

CoverOK Health Care Coalition Releases SoonerCare Enrollment Guide, Video: A statewide coalition of health care advocates and providers has created resources to help connect newly eligible Oklahomans to life-changing health care coverage provided by Medicaid. According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, more than 130,000 Oklahomans have already been approved for benefits through expansion. However, thousands more Oklahomans are eligible for health coverage but have yet to apply. As a result of Medicaid expansion, adults with low incomes are now eligible for SoonerCare. [CoverOK]

Weekly What’s That

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment, commonly called MAT, combines behavioral therapy and medication to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), or smoking.

There are three medications used in MAT for OUD: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Methadone, a clinically administered opioid that prevents withdrawal and does not block other narcotics, can only be given by a opioid treatment program certified clinic. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid-based medication that does block the effect of other narcotics while preventing withdrawal, can be administered in an office setting by a doctor with a buprenorphine waiver. Naltrexone is a non opioid-based medication that blocks the opioids from attaching to receptors in the brain but does not prevent withdrawal. Naltrexone is also used to treat AUD.

Selection of medication in combination of behavioral therapy is most successful when the individual’s needs and history of opioid use are taken into consideration.

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

Quote of the Week

“With this legislation, with these rules, we’re robbing students of the opportunity to have a high-quality education, to think critically about the world around us and to build a more just society.”

-Carlisha Bradley, Oklahoma State Department of Education Board member who cast the only “No” vote on implementing the emergency rules surrounding HB 1775, a new law passed this spring that will have a chilling effect on teaching race-related issues. [NonDoc]

Editorial of the Week

State must stop politicizing McGirt

To some of the district attorneys invited to participate in a panel Tuesday in Tulsa to discuss the McGirt v. Oklahoma, it might have felt like a setup. Whatever its intent, the forum ultimately devolved into a protest from Native Americans in the audience, exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and demand answers from officials.

The public event was ostensibly staged by Gov. Kevin Stitt and others to explain how victims in criminal cases dismissed in the wake of McGirt could seek redress, or at least where they could turn for answers. But it was handled poorly from the get-go, starting with the fact that tribal leaders were not asked to be part of the panel. Inviting them to sit in as an afterthought was an insult. In fact, (Cherokee County) District Attorney Jack Thorp called the snubbing of the chiefs a “travesty.”

Thorp also said the problems with the McGirt ruling are “real.” Because of the Supreme Court ruling, thousands of cases deemed improperly prosecuted by the state had to be tossed out, and are now being tackled by federal and tribal courts. A main focus of Thorp’s concern is a class of cases wherein non-Natives have committed crimes against tribal members, and because of the sheer volume of cases that must be handled, those might fall by the wayside.

From the perspective of an objective and informed bystander, Thorp is doing his best to work with federal prosecutors and those of both the Cherokee and Muscogee nations. And that same bystander must also agree the Cherokee Nation has been toiling around the clock to put into place every element of a robust criminal justice system. Indeed, CN Attorney General Sara Hill had the ball rolling before Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion for the Court.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. aptly dubbed the forum as “an anti-McGirt rally for political reasons.” He might have added that Stitt and some of the district attorneys seem to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. Stitt’s comment that DAs are “concerned about the Natives and non-natives that voted them into office” is a no-brainer. Of course they’re concerned; they’re politicians, and they can presumably do rudimentary math to calculate the expediency of 3.6 million non-Natives in Oklahoma, as opposed to 400,000 Natives. But pointing out the obvious is demeaning, and could be construed as dismissive of the people who, according to the Court, never relinquished their claim on lands in Eastern Oklahoma.

Stitt ended his program prematurely after the atmosphere had turned hostile, with audience members flashing red cards every time he or one of the panel said something objectionable. This will remind Cherokee County residents of another politician who refused to participate in a town hall at the tribal complex a few years back, when then-CN Chief Bill John Baker refused to ban those same red cards. Neither politician – both of whom claim Cherokee Nation citizenship – is adept at taking criticism.

McGirt, though rightfully decided, has brought some unintended consequences, but unless the state can put politics aside and work with tribes for a more seamless transition, it will continue to create confusion among the public – and confusion breeds fear. Stitt said, “Nobody on this panel created the McGirt situation,” and he’s right – but neither did the tribes. Oklahoma officials should help educate their constituents, Native or not, rather than try to score brownie points – or votes – on an issue so critical to all who live within these reservations.

[Tahlequah Daily Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 27% – Rural suicides — those outside the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas — increased by 27% from 2019 to 2020, while counties within the two major metro areas saw a 2% decline during the same period. [Source: Tulsa World]
  • Zero – Number of complaints reported to the Oklahoma State Department of Education or its officials about districts teaching critical race theory in local schools.  [Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education via The Oklahoman]
  • 9th – Oklahoma ranks as 9th worst nationally for new cases of COVID-19 [Source: Healthdata.gov via Tulsa World
  • 1 in 5 – An estimated 200,000 Oklahoma children live in poverty, which is more than 1 in 5 of all children in the state. [Source: KIDS COUNT]
  • 44,000 – Approximate number of Oklahomans who said it was “somewhat likely” that they could be evicted in the next two months [Source: Census data via AP News]

What We’re Reading


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