Weekly Wonk: Medicaid expansion improves housing stability | State question process deserves better | Capitol Update

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

Medicaid expansion improves housing stability: Oklahomans who voted for State Question 802 in 2020 knew that Medicaid expansion would bring greater access to quality health care, but what voters may not have known is that Medicaid expansion plays a role in keeping people safely housed. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Sufficient funding for OJA will support Oklahoma families:The Board of Juvenile Affairs approved the FY 2024 budget request for the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) last week for filing with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) by Oct. 1. Agency budget requests can be used by the governor to form his budget and are considered by the legislature when it convenes in February to write the state budget. The OJA budget request is a good example of the way state government is working — or not working — under the recent changes in governing structure. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: State question process deserves better: Last week culminated a slow-motion nightmare for advocates of State Question 820, the ballot initiative that will put full legalization of marijuana to a vote of the people. However, as Paul Monies with Oklahoma Watch reported, SQ 820 advocates became “unwitting guinea pigs” in a new process intended to speed up signature verification by using an outside vendor. Instead, it took three times longer, cost the state more than $350,000, and delayed Oklahomans from being able to vote on SQ 820. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Medicaid Expansion

One of the primary provisions of the Affordable Care Act gave states the option to expand their Medicaid eligibility to include individuals below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($18,754 per year for one person or $38.295 for a family of four in 2022). The costs of expansion were paid for in full by the federal government through 2016, before dropping down (and freezing at) 90 percent in 2020, well above the typical federal match rate. Under the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress in 2021, states that expand Medicaid also receive a 5 percentage point increase in their regular federal matching rate for two years after expansion takes effect.

Until 2020, Oklahoma’s Governor and Legislature opted not to expand Medicaid, a decision that left billions in federal funding on the table, and more than 100,000 Oklahomans in a ‘coverage crater’ (too low-income to qualify for subsidies on the health insurance marketplace, too wealthy or not a member of a population group that is eligible to qualify for traditional Medicaid). In June 2020, Oklahoma voters narrowly approved an initiative petition, State Question 802, to expand Medicaid effective July 1, 2021. As of June 2022, over 325,000 individuals had been approved for benefits under Medicaid expansion.

As of July 2022, 39 states, including Washington D.C., have expanded Medicaid.

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

Quote of the Week

“Poor health can be both a cause and consequence of housing instability. Evictions are associated with a broad range of poor health outcomes, including increased mental health hospitalizations, poor birth outcomes, and increased all-cause mortality. Conversely, poor health can lead to absenteeism or job loss and the resulting income reduction can make it hard to afford housing.”

— Sabine Brown, OK Policy’s Infrastructure and Access Senior Policy Analyst, speaking on how Medicaid expansion improves housing stability. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World Editorial: Oklahoma’s outdated housing law creates power imbalance, putting renters in squalid homes

Living with snakes invading a home is not part of a rental agreement Oklahomans make with landlords. Sadly, it’s going to take state laws to get that point across.

A story from reporter Tim Stanley outlined the poor and sometimes dangerous conditions Afghan evacuees are living with in Tulsa. A refusal of homeowners to maintain properties, such as fixing air conditioning or getting rid of pests like snakes, are among the problems.

Another is escalating home and utility prices. Federal coverage of rent and utilities will be running out, and about one in four Tulsa evacuee households are unable to meet the higher housing costs. That means they will need new homes.

It’s going to be tough to find other options. A housing shortage for low- to middle-income families in Tulsa has been a problem for years that only worsened in the past two years.

Afghan evacuees — many of whom helped American troops in combat zones — escaped war with few possessions and hoped for a new beginning. They arrived in our country struggling with a new language, culture, schools and trauma. Many are mourning deaths of family members while trying to rebuild their lives. They are vulnerable and are prime targets for derelict landlords.

Sadly, the Afghan refugees are facing what so many under-resourced, marginalized Oklahomans deal with in housing. Renters in our state do not have the legal power or financial resources to stand up to owners who are acting badly.

A legislative interim study held in September found that many renters are evicted after asking for basic repairs to such things as leaking pipes and broken heaters. The Landlord Tenant Act was written in 1978 without anti-retaliation provisions other states adopted, such as preventing landlords from terminating leases or arbitrarily raising rents on tenants who complain.

The Legislature in 2014 forbade local governments from maintaining registries of landlords or properties that consistently violate building or property codes. That prevents renters from having a way to check a potential landlord’s or rental’s history. This is quite an imbalance of power.

In the state courts, the statute is so unevenly applied that a recent study characterized it as looking like different laws from county to county.

We believe most landlords in our city and state are conscientious people who want to maintain a safe place for renters while also making a profit. Those good landlords would surely want to clear their industry of those who take advantage of defenseless people, including the Tulsa owner who chuckled at the request for snake pest control and suggested using mothballs instead.

Some of our Afghan evacuees are seeing the worst of what our nation and community have to offer. We need to do better by them and also for everyone going up against unscrupulous landlords.

Our Legislature has a chance to make this right in the next session, and we encourage lawmakers to do so.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 19,919 – Total number of Hispanic businesses in Oklahoma [Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce]
  • 13.2% – For the lowest-earning Oklahomans (the bottom 20%), taxes represent a 13.2% share of their income, which is more than twice the share for Oklahomans in the top 1% where taxes represent 6.2% of their income. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy via OK Policy]   
  • $306 million – The amount of lost state revenue for Fiscal Year 2023 if the grocery sales tax was completely eliminated. [Oklahoma Tax Commission via OK Policy]
  • 1.1% – Local criminal justice fines and fees revenue in Oklahoma represents a 1.1% share of the state general fund revenue in 2021, tied with Florida and South Carolina. Only 13 other states had a higher rate. [Tax Policy Center]
  • 11% – Percentage of Oklahoma households with children ages 0 to 4 where adults had to take unpaid leave in order to manage child care disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.[KIDS COUNT]

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.


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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