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: The power of advocacy: Growing up in a household that prioritized the importance of community, I learned early how to raise my own voice and leverage my personal power by connecting with others who also are seeking change. I deeply appreciate my parents and my extended family for helping me develop these skills. But once I traveled away from home, I quickly learned that not everyone was taught these lessons. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]
New hire expands OK Policy’s research team: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to announce the expansion of its research team through the hiring of data analyst Hunter McCans. At OK Policy, McCans will bring his expertise and knowledge directly helping those facing eviction access rental assistance to our OK Policy team. [OK Policy]
- Join our team as a Development Manager (Search Extended): OK Policy has extended its search for a Development Manager, a vital position that ensures the financial health of the organization through targeted donations and grants. Remote work is available for Oklahoma residents and the deadline to apply is Monday, March 14. [Learn more and apply]
- Two New Paid Fellowships Announced for Fall 2022-2023: We are currently hiring for two paid Fellow positions: a Policy Fellow and Communications & Operations Fellow. These one-year fellowship opportunities are for Fall 2022-Fall 2023 and applications are open now. The deadline to apply for a Fellowship is Wednesday, March 30 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]
Weekly What’s That
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was a major piece of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in March 2021 intended to provide support for families, businesses, and governments to help address the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The $1.9 trillion bill was passed through the budget reconciliation process with support only from Democratic members of Congress. Among the bill’s key provisions for individuals were direct payments of $1,400 per person to most U.S. residents; expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit; extended unemployment insurance benefits; expansion of health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act; increased SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and assistance to struggling renters and homeowners.
The bill also provided some $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments. Of this total, the Oklahoma state government is slated to receive $1.87 billion and $1.32 billion is to go to cities, counties, and local communities. The Oklahoma Legislature formed the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding to help determine how state funds would be allocated. States are required to have all available ARPA funds obligated by December 2024 and spent by 2026.
Nationally, Native American tribes are to receive $30 billion in ARPA funds, of which $20 billion is intended to focus on combating COVID-19 and stabilizing safety nets in tribal communities. Most of the remaining funds are to be allocated to tribes by formula.
In addition, the Oklahoma State Department of Education will receive $1.4 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
Quote of the Week
“Tax cuts while federal money is flowing in scares me to death. We have done it before and had a hard time after.”
– Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, speaking about a bill that would eliminate the state sales tax on groceries and reduce state revenue [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Be wary of government official choosing secrecy
It’s always troubling when a government agency opts for secrecy, especially in issues of public funding.
The latest closure of records is from Dan Sivard, purchasing director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. He decided that the $12 billion in applications for funding from the COVID-19 federal package are not for everyone’s eyes.
As the nonprofit Oklahoma Watch reported, this is contrary to similar requests from agencies to the Legislature that are made open in budget hearings or during the session. Some applications from the American Rescue Plan Act are from state agencies and county and municipal governments.
Oklahoma has $1.87 billion to spend. The Legislature created a joint committee and working groups to evaluate the applications, which will go through a scoring process. Gov. Kevin Stitt will approve the winning choices. Money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
A memo from Sivard argues the applications aren’t “records” as defined by the Open Records Act. Also, he contends the applications are similar to “offers” and may have financial information, using those as reasons for secrecy.
An OMES spokesman added that applications involve public and private entities, likening the process to vendor procurement and citing the number of proposed projects—788—as “a big differentiator.”
Those arguments appear to be reaching for justification to keep the public from overseeing government actions….
Numbers of the Day
- 15% – Increase in median rent (including utilities) nationwide since 2001, while median renter household income has only increased 3.4% during that time. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- 50.5% – Percentage of Oklahoma residents who are female [U.S. Census Bureau]
- $1 – Amount of income needed to be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit [Urban Institute]
- 59% – Percentage of U.S. parents with lower incomes who say their child may face digital obstacles in schoolwork [Pew Research Center]
- 75% – Percentage of uninsured U.S. adults with mental health conditions who did not seek treatment [Health Affairs]
What We’re Reading
- Why America has been so stingy in fighting child poverty [NPR]
- Robust COVID Relief Achieved Historic Gains Against Poverty and Hardship, Bolstered Economy [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- How communities are investing American Rescue Plan funds with the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker [Brookings]
- Suicide risk and prevention in transgender people [Williams Institute]
- Women’s History in Oklahoma [Oklahoma Historical Society]
March is designated national Women’s History Month to honor the contribution of women and girls to our nation’s history.