How To Start a Chapter of Together Oklahoma

by | March 2nd, 2017

Chapters of Together Oklahoma are larger groups that encompass multiple legislative districts. There are lots of things chapters can do, but here is what they must do to be a TOK Chapter:

  1. Be in an area that needs a TOK Chapter.  Our active chapters are TOK OKC, TOK Tulsa, and TOK Norman, but there are more than enough people to start TOK Chapters all over the state.
  2. Have at least 2 people who are enthusiastic about starting a TOK Chapter and willing to plan an event and contact members in your area.
  3. Be ready to support our vision for Together Oklahoma
    • We confidently affirm that a budget is a moral document, and we are deeply troubled by what our current state budget says about Oklahoma values.
    • Working together, we seek the best ways to provide prosperity for all Oklahomans in a thriving economy and with safe, healthy, equitable, and prosperous communities. We connect Oklahomans who share this mission to the facts and to each other.
    • We insist on transparency and accountability from elected leaders, and we commit ourselves to fulfilling our responsibilities as active citizens. We focus on our home state because policy decisions made here are what affect us most and what we have the most power to affect.
    • Our non-partisan advocacy efforts welcome all Oklahomans to join us to work together for a better Oklahoma.
  4. The two founding members should reach out to us at info@togetherok.org and let us know that you’d like to form a chapter once you have 1-3.  We can help you get it going from there.

Your team and your quest!

by | February 23rd, 2017

Photo from Pascal

You, goodly knight, and the constituents of your state Representative and state Senator, have been solemnly charged with a valiant quest! 

As citizens you are responsible for being active members of your state legislative district. Your efforts to influence the 2 state legislative members who carry your banner, to get them to affirm that a state budget is a moral document, and to compel them to focus and find the recurring revenues, will no doubt help save the “kingdom” of Oklahoma.

Yes, there be dragons ahead but take heart! The Good news is there are lots of ways to do a budget and tax advocacy quest.  

Better news!  You are not alone – you can join with other Together OK members in your districts as an adventuring team.

Best news! I am humbly on your team as well, so I’ll keep illuminating some helpful wizards and dangerous dragons you may encounter along the way. 

  • This is your quest! Dragons, wizards, and all.

  • Who is with you?

Come hither, take heed, and I shall tell ye the tale…

This is your quest! Dragons, wizards, and all.

Quest option #1: Ask your legislators, or their assistant, when they can meet with you, and a few of your fellow constituents in a Town Hall meeting! What better way to talk about the revenue options?

  • Town Halls help legislators get some Face-to-Face time with many constituents at once so shouldn’t yours be hosting one to talk about revenue options during this budget crisis?  Some legislators prefer constituent breakfast briefings, office hours at the Capitol, or small group coffee dates back in your district.  All of these options are acceptable but they NEED to meet with you and your fellow constituents! How will they know how to best represent you if they don’t have a Town Hall? Ask what they already have planned, when they can attend one if constituents need to plan one, and let me know using this Town Halls form so I can connect you with your fellow constituents.

Quest option #2: If you can’t meet with them, ask one of your district teammates to meet with them.  

  • Perchance you have social anxiety, maybe you’ve burnt your bridges with your 2 legislators, maybe you’re just plain too busy to set aside this time.  ALL of those are valid reasons to not meet face-to-face for Face-to-Face February, but they don’t exclude you from asking a fellow constituent to go on your behalf.  You can share this blog post at the very least.  You are on this quest with us and we’d be worse off without you!

Who is with you?

  • There are people getting our advocacy alerts in every district in the state.   Fill out this form if you’d like me to help connect you to other advocates near you.
  • Two people plus a plan equals power so connect with another person who is in your part of the state. We’ve even created a Slack channel for each and every district, so you can easily connect with others in your district online to discuss those face-to-face meetings I mentioned above.
  • We also have Outreach, Events, Communications, and Research teams where you can connect with others all over the state to talk about projects that can help us all! Just fill out this form if you haven’t already and we’ll make sure to get you connected.

We have all the tools you need on our TOK website but, if you see something is missing or if you forget how to find or do something, just ask your fellow TOK teammates.  We are on this quest together so be strong, be brave, be willing to do your part, and recruit others!  Together we have already slain some dragons in this session so keep it up! 

Fare thee well and may we meet again upon the morrow in Face-to-Face February and beyond!

-Lady Kara-Joy of the Knights of the Better Budget  

Photo from wiredforlego

 

Taking Action and Staying Sane

by | February 16th, 2017

Together Oklahoma members are working together to keep taking action and staying sane!

Revenue Options!

Not only do we have viable revenue options right here from Oklahoma Policy Institute to consider and share with fellow advocates and our own legislators, this week we also have a very special podcast from me and Policy Director, Gene Perry.  In the OK PolicyCast Episode 24: All about the revenues, we discuss the Governor’s budget ideas, what’s most likely to make it through the Legislature, and what other revenue ideas Oklahoma Policy Institute has put forward to fix our state’s budget hole. I hope you like it, subscribe where you find your podcasts, and feel free to give me feedback if you know how we can make future episodes even better.

Policy Action Alerts from TOK and beyond!

You can depend on me for policy action alerts related to budget each week each week, like the one below.  However, if you’d also like alerts every Monday about Criminal Justice, Education, Health Care, Immigration, Poverty & Opportunity, Voting & Elections, and such, I recommend that you subscribe to the OK Policy general alerts at this link.

Contact your two legislators to let them know that you are supportive of HB 1383 that would increase the Sales Tax Relief Credit, a key support for hundreds of thousands of working families and seniors. This bill passed out of a House subcommittee but will need to heard and approved by the full House Appropriations and Budget committee.  Find out more about it on this Factsheet. At this time bills are being heard in committees and this is a good one that could use your support. 

You need to do your part, but only your part, NOT all the parts!

As a young organizer I used to try so hard to do it all.  Once you see the needs in this world you can’t un-see them, right?  The trouble is that there will always be challenges ahead. For example, Frederick Douglass made essential contributions to the end of Slavery in the United States but before he died the post-civil war construction era had ended and the South was headed for Jim Crow segregation.  He couldn’t do it all but we never hesitate to honor him for all that he DID DO.  Our ancestors planted trees and we can sit in their shade but we also have to get up and plant more trees for the future.

Maybe you and I can’t be a Frederick Douglass for this world but we can each do our part. We’ve talked before about how to do Advocacy with Minimal, Medium, or More Effort, and it is also important to know when to stop and catch your breath.  One of our TOK advocates reminded us in the advocate_self_care Slack channel of  the way that “sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant…Let’s remember MUSIC. Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song. “

Legislator Town Hall Meetings

We’ve been meeting with our legislators for Face-to-face February.  In addition to scheduling your own meeting with at the Capitol or in your district on the weekend, another outstanding opportunity could be planning or attending a Town Hall Meeting. If you know about one of your state legislators hosting a Town Hall Meeting please fill out this form Also, if you’d like to be on a team to plan and host a Town Hall, please fill out this form and we’ll get in touch with you soon. 

Upcoming Events

So remember:

We are planting trees here and trees can take a long time to grow. Don’t try to do it all but like Woody Guthrie said “Take it easy, but take it.”

Time we start acting like citizens instead of subjects.

by | February 9th, 2017

There are lots of great things about Oklahoma but our budget and tax system isn’t one of them! As you probably know, we’ve been working for years to get our state legislators to talk about how to properly fund our public works priorities earlier in session, use credible data to make policy decisions, and do all of this with more transparency and accountability to citizens like you and me.  Right NOW is the time to visit them in their offices to tell them how years upon years of budget cuts are hurting you and your communities!  Give them all the reasons they need to set distractions aside and FOCUS on funding.

This week, I kicked of FACE-TO-FACE FEBRUARY by visiting the Capitol twice. The halls were extremely quiet. I walked right into the offices of both of my legislators and had good conversations with them about:

  • Oklahoma Policy Institute’s suggested revenue options,
  • about why funding schools, public health, alternative courts for people with addiction or mental illness, roads and bridges, clean water, and pay raises for state employees matter to me.  (Do you know what do you want funded? It has practically all been cut.)

I listened attentively as they answered my questions such as:

  • Which revenue options are you considering?
  • What are the best ways for me to communicate with you as your constituent?
  • Are their other ways I can support you and your colleagues in fixing our giant budget hole first and foremost?

I took notes on their responses and the questions that they asked me so I could follow up with:

  • Thank you for taking the time to talk to me;
  • I appreciate knowing that you and I are both concerned about ______;
  • I am glad you know that my community is struggling with ________ and;
  • You asked about ____ and here is what I found_____; and
  • I hope you and I can talk more soon about ways to find more recurring revenues to deal with our structural budget deficit and the immediate need for more funding for the public good .

Before I left their office:

  • I made sure to turn the conversation back to a point where we agree,  
  • I asked them to take a selfie with me, and
  • I thanked them for their time.
  • Then I THANKED THEIR LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT. (Know and value the gatekeepers, right?!)

After my visit I:

  • Sat down to review my notes from the meeting;
  • Sent them a thank you letter right then and there;
  • Reminded them of some important points from our conversation; and 
  • let them know that I am available to them if I can help and that I’ll be in touch again soon.
  • Then I posted my selfie with them on social media with the hashtags #meandmylegislator and #f2fFeb, and
  • posted about my meeting with them in the #legislator_convos channel in togetherok Slack.

Join us! You can:

Too many of our friends and neighbors can’t afford to take the time to visit our legislators at the Capitol, or even for a coffee date in the district, so if you can, you have a responsibility to do so. We are all responsible for our two state legislators and it is time we start acting like citizens instead of subjects.  If you can’t meet in person, do the things you can do, ask others to help do the things they can do, and know that we have your back! We are in this together!

Face-to-Face February and Funding Human Services?

by | February 2nd, 2017

Photo by Ali Arsh

WOW! Congratulations on some great Legislative 101 events!!! Last weekend we had almost 400 Oklahomans at our events. TOK Tulsa had the most attendees, TOK OKC is the only group that had a legislator show up to help with their exercise, and TOK Norman  got the most press coverage.  I am so proud of all of our efforts! This is the kind of momentum we need to carry into Face-to-Face February.

Face-to-Face February

Yep, it is time to make sure our legislators see the looks on our faces when we talk about the pain that budget cuts have caused for our communities and our families and the options for new recurring revenues.  To help us achieve a successful face-to-face interaction with our legislators TOK events teams are planning events in our TOK Slack channels, but you can also help plan one yourself. In fact, some of you have already stepped to this effort with one-on-one meetings with legislators in your districts.  Go you!  Let’s build on those relationships by carpooling to the capitol, attending town hall meetings, scheduling more meetings in districts, getting to know legislative assistants, and working together with our TOK team members to maximize our efforts.

How will your elected leaders know what matters to you if you don’t tell them? 

Follow these links to learn more about:

Let’s all make sure we have tools we need to navigate the Capitol this session.  Our legislators need us!

Remember that Together Oklahoma is sponsored by a 501-c3 non-profit, which means there is a limit to how many times I can remind you to remind your legislators to take specific actions on specific bills. Echoing our priorities and supporting each other is up to you.  I am so very proud to be on this team with all of you!

8 facts about human services funding in Oklahoma (#Betterok Budget Bootcamp)

by | January 31st, 2017

Most Oklahomans agree that government has an essential role in ensuring that vulnerable individuals and families can meet their basic needs when times are toughest. These basic supports are often called “human services.” They are the safety net that makes sure everyone has a foundation to reach their potential and fully contribute to the community. The benefits go far beyond those individuals receiving help — when we maximize the potential of our fellow Oklahomans, we help entire communities to thrive and remain vibrant. Here are eight things you should know about how Oklahoma pays for and operates these core programs:

#1: Human services matter at many stages in people’s lives.

In childhood, human services support people by making sure kids have enough food to eat and basic health care to support their growing brains and bodies. In adulthood, human services support people by doing things like working to make housing safe and affordable or teaching literacy to adults who cannot read. Human services support older adults by doing things like reducing social isolation and providing meals to older people who can’t leave their homes.

#2: Poverty in Oklahoma remains above the national average

610,828 Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty level in 2015. That’s 16.1 percent of Oklahoma’s population, or about one out of every six Oklahomans. While the measure has its flaws, federal poverty rates are useful as an estimate of the number of Oklahomans who are struggling in the private economy.

#3: Poverty has many faces in Oklahoma

Although the highest poverty rates are found among African-American (27.8%), Hispanic or Latino (24.6%), and American Indian (23.1%) Oklahomans, about three-fifths of all Oklahomans living in poverty in Oklahoma are white. Poverty affects many different family types as well. One in three of the families living in poverty are in single-mother households, but one in four are in married couple households. Poverty levels are highest among women, children, people with less education, people with disabilities, and people outside Oklahoma’s major metro areas.

#4: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) is Oklahoma’s biggest agency providing basic housing, nutrition, and child welfare programs

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) received appropriations of $652 million in FY 2017. Appropriations grew 20 percent since FY 2011, while the total state budget was approximately $6.8 billion in both years. Most of the increased funding has been for child welfare services under the Pinnacle Plan (discussed in fact #8). Most other divisions of OKDHS have been cut. The agency also receives approximately $1.5 billion in federal grants and other revenue. DHS has the most employees of any state agency, employing over 7,300 people in FY 2015, although the agency has been forced to reduce its workforce significantly due to recent budget cuts.

#5: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is Oklahoma’s first line of defense against hunger

SNAP is a federally-funded program operated by Oklahoma DHS. SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children and families than any other public or charitable effort by far. In Oklahoma, SNAP helped about 262,300 children in fiscal year 2014, more than 1 in 4 (27 percent) of our state’s kids. Currently in Oklahoma, just over 600,000 people receive SNAP benefits each month and close to 900,000 receive assistance at some point during the year. This program cost $860 million in FY 2015 and is fully funded by the federal government. SNAP accounts for 64 percent of all food assistance in Oklahoma. By comparison, all private charitable efforts combined account for just 6 percent.

#6: SNAP is widely seen as an effective, well-targeted program

SNAP’s benefits are modest, but they’re well-targeted to the families that need them the most. While participating families with children in Oklahoma received an average of $410 each month in 2014, those with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line ($9,895 per year for a family of 3) got $516. That’s one reason why SNAP helps lift more children out of deep poverty than any other government assistance program. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, able-bodied adult, more than half work – and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children.

#7: A tiny percentage of poor families receive cash assistance from the state

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal block grant, helps fund job training, work supports, and, in some instances, short-term cash payments for low-income single parents. About 12,000 families receive cash assistance through TANF, representing less than one percent of the population. This program is much smaller than food stamps, with annual spending of just under $200 million in FY 2014. Less than 10 percent of total spending goes to basic cash assistance. Oklahoma is one of just 10 states that spends less than 10 percent of TANF funding on basic cash assistance.

#8: Besides SNAP and TANF, OKDHS operates numerous other important programs

OKDHS is responsible for the state’s child welfare system that serves the more than 10,000 children who have been placed in state custody. The child welfare system has undergone major changes and funding increases in recent years to meet the terms of a class-action lawsuit that found Oklahoma was not protecting children in its care.

OKDHS also provides services like medical care and other assistance for those with developmental disabilities; provides transportation, meals, and care for seniors who can live at home; subsidizes child care for eligible working families; and collects child support from absent parents of children who are eligible for DHS services.

Advocacy with Minimal, Medium, or More Effort

by | January 25th, 2017

Don’t be fooled by those who throw their hands up in the air saying “There’s nothing we can do about it!” when it comes to the state budget and other issues we care about. There are things everyone can do right now –none of us should wait until the next election to act.

To clarify exactly what I mean, I’ve broken various advocacy tasks into lists by Minimal, Medium, and More effort involved.  EVERY single one of these is important!  

If it is minimal effort task we need more people doing it to have results. There are far more of us who care than any one of us knows. You don’t have to do all of these but you can return to this list and do one any time you are able. So if you are new to this or skeptical that it will work, you can start small and as Woody Guthrie said “Take it easy, but take it.”

Minimal effort advocacy:

  • Give yourself credit for what you do! You are reading this now and that is much more than some.  You deserve feeling good about making an effort, so own that.
  • Follow Together Oklahoma on Facebook or Twitter (If you aren’t on either this doesn’t apply)
  • Share our posts or re-tweet us.  If you are on Facebook and Twitter this is easy as pie!
  • Sign up for the TOK weekly email or read the weekly TOK blog-post on togetherok.org . What you are reading right now is on togetherok.org as a shareable blog post.
  • Register to vote (If you’re already registered give someone else the registration form.)
  • Look up who your two state legislators are and put their contact info in your phone.
  • Send a message to your legislator via form letter or form email.  Personalized communications have more impact but these are better than nothing.
  • Send your legislator a brief personalized email about a specific bill. Your email can literally say “As your constituent living at _______ I am writing to ask that you please vote no/yes on bill_____ that will do _____ for/to me and my family.”
  • Tell at least one other person that you are doing advocacy with Together Oklahoma or some other organization.  Don’t start out with someone who strongly disagrees with you! Start out with a friend who cares but who may need a little encouragement to do more than complain.
  • Remind someone who is scared about Oklahoma that they have the power to help make things change.  Maybe the person who needs the reminder is you, so write yourself a note, set an alarm in your phone, or get a tattoo if that is what you need to do.  (Okay, tatoos are not actually minimal effort but hey, you do you.)

If you’re ready to be engaged in a way that that requires just a smidgen more effort, these Medium effort tasks are for you.  You don’t have to do all of them to be effective.  Do what suits you best and do it with a team if that is what works well for you.

Medium effort advocacy:

  • Attend a Together Oklahoma meeting or the meeting of another effective advocacy organization.  Yes that is right! “The world is run by those who show up” so if you show up, you are doing more than most. Thank yourself! (Find our events on togetherok.org)
  • Sign up via the Together Oklahoma membership form so we can know where you are and what you might want to do.  This isn’t a binding contract but it gives us a good way to connect with you.
  • Volunteer to help with a Together Oklahoma event.  We have a long list of volunteer opportunities from setting up chairs to giving presentations and everything in between. We can do more when we all pitch in. Like grandma said, “Many hands make light work.”
  • Accept our invitation to join Slack after you have filled out the TOK membership form.  You can find out all about why Slack is better than email HERE.  Other than face to face meetings, much of the magic of Together Oklahoma organizing happens on Slack.
  • Attend a “Day at the Capitol” event with Together Oklahoma or another organization.  These events are a fun and easy introduction to directly communicating with your legislators face-to-face.  Usually these events include scheduling meet-ups with legislators in advance, carpools, gathering places, talking points, professional advocacy coaching, plans for lunch, photo shoots, and follow-ups to debrief and keep holding legislators accountable.  Some Capitol days are planned better than others and planners will often welcome help from volunteers.

Ready to take a deeper plunge? Here are some ways you can have more individual impact instead of just the group impact you will have with min and med tasks.  More effort tasks demand that you get serious about self care and advocate/personal life balance.  You can “Go big or go home!” but remember that it is actually important to actually go home at some point and get recharged for the next opportunity.

More effort advocacy:

  • Develop a one on one relationship with one or both of your legislators.  If you really want them to understand where you are coming from, then they have to know you.
  • Get to know legislative assistants because they are the gatekeepers to your legislators.
  • Join a Together Oklahoma committee to do Events planning, Communications, Research, and Outreach to your fellow Oklahomans. All you have to do to join is fill our our membership form and someone will contact you.
  • Offer to help coordinate parts of the Together Oklahoma team on either a state-wide or local basis.  There are many ways that you can help us help each other.  If you have the time, Oklahoma needs your help!
  • Keep a constant trickle of information flowing.  Touching base with your legislators and your TOK team members as little as once a week can be much more impactful that one big event per month.  
  • Remember that a leader is someone who can deliver a following. Sharing the Together Oklahoma tools, like our weekly blog post, every week establish you as someone dependable who can help lead the way. 
  • Practice good self-care so you can be able to stay the course.  We need you take care of you and remind others to do so too.

There are lots of other ways to get involved but these ones are important and you can do one today.  Like I said before, you don’t have to do all of these, but as Oklahomans we have a responsibility to at least be doing some of these.  You already know that though, don’t you?  I know you do because you are reading this right now.  Thanks!

 

Thanks for doing what you can do, we are in this together, and we’ll see you all soon!

Action time and Health Care Facts

by | January 19th, 2017

Before we get to the health care facts I’d like to give you all one last reminder about the OK Policy State Budget Summit.  This is THE BEST opportunity we advocates will have to learn about how our resources are being invested, what lies ahead, and how to take this information and translate it into action, this year. You can register to attend between now and Tuesday, January 24th OR you can at least take a moment to remind your legislators and their legislative assistants that they have been invited to attend.  You can find who represents you at this link and you can send them details about the summit and ask them to be there to represent you. Oklahoma is in a budget crisis and we all need to know more about how to fix it.

Upcoming Together Oklahoma events can be found on our community calendar.  

Health Care Funding in Oklahoma
(#Betterok Budget Bootcamp)

Health is decided by far more than the health care one receives. Some estimates argue that health care is responsible for perhaps 10 percent of one’s actual health, with factors such as employment, food insecurity, housing, literacy, and many more all playing a part in determining health outcomes. However, being able to see a doctor does play an important role in health – and in Oklahoma, many people can’t. Without deliberate commitment to fixing this from our state leadership, Oklahoma’s health will continue to fall behind the rest of the nation. Here are eight things you should know about how we got here and what we can do now and you can follow this link for more details about each of these 8 facts about health care funding.

  1. : Overall health in Oklahoma has improved recently, though not as quickly as elsewhere
  2. : Health services are an essential focus of government
  3. Medicaid is a cost-effective health insurance program that especially helps Oklahoma kids
  4. : Oklahoma provides nearly the lowest funding for mental health treatment in the nation despite high rates of mental illness
  5. : Of the state’s health agencies, the Department of Health has been cut most in recent years
  6. : Oklahoma’s uninsured rate has decreased as a result of the Affordable Care Act – but not nearly as much as it could have
  7. : High uninsured rates are threatening rural hospitals
  8. : Oklahoma has proven policy options to improve our health

You can learn more about all of these on the full health care funding in Oklahoma blog post, share the 8 facts above along with our snazzy graphs from Together Oklahoma on Facebook and @TogetherOK on Twitter, and make sure your legislators know you care.  

We still have a small window of time between now and the beginning of session when legislators may be easier to find than they may be once bills start flying across their desks.  Take advantage of this opportunity and introduce yourself.  Remember, sometimes it is not about which legislators you know but which legislators know you!

 

8 facts about health care funding in Oklahoma (#Betterok Budget Bootcamp)

by | January 19th, 2017

Health is decided by far more than the health care one receives. Some estimates argue that health care is responsible for perhaps 10 percent of one’s actual health, with factors such as employment, food insecurity, housing, literacy, and many more all playing a part in determining health outcomes. However, being able to see a doctor does play an important role in health – and in Oklahoma, many people can’t. Without deliberate commitment to fixing this from our state leadership, Oklahoma’s health will continue to fall behind the rest of the nation. Here are eight things you should know about how we got here and what we can do now.

#1: Overall health in Oklahoma has improved recently, though not as quickly as elsewhere

Oklahoma ranks 46th in United Health Foundation’s annual state health rankings, which takes into account everything from cardiovascular deaths to fresh produce consumption to pollution levels. That’s an improvement over previous years, but a steep decline from our ranking in the middle of the pack in the 1990s.

Drug abuse and addiction rates are high, as are child abuse, domestic violence, accidental death, and smoking. Obesity is increasing dramatically. Many of Oklahoma’s poor health outcomes aren’t due to poor individual decisions or individual medical conditions. They are caused by problems that affect entire communities, like stress, limited access to healthy food, lack of transportation, and the inability to get medical help when needed.

Our health and social services shortfalls hit the lower-income population hardest. A higher proportion of Oklahomans are poorer than the American average and access to health insurance is among the worst in the nation.

#2: Health services are an essential focus of government

At the state level we expect government to provide access to physical and mental health care, operate hospitals, promote health and regulate health care, investigate and combat disease outbreaks, and help look after those with disabilities, seniors, veterans, children, and others who cannot meet their basic needs without help.

Health and social services are essential to a healthy community and economy. By most measures, however, the United States falls short of other developed nations and Oklahoma struggles to keep up with the rest of the nation. We have made progress, though. Oklahoma has successfully invested to increase the number of children with health insurance and we have developed a statewide nursing home visitation program.

Taken together, the Health Care Authority, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Human Services received roughly one-third of the total dollars appropriated by the state for the current fiscal year. This funding goes to everything from purchasing health care to suicide prevention to child abuse prevention.

#3: Medicaid is a cost-effective health insurance program that especially helps Oklahoma kids

SoonerCare is the program that most people think about first when they think about the state and health. SoonerCare is the state’s Medicaid program, administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA). This program uses a combination of state and federal dollars to provide coverage to more than 800,000 Oklahomans every month, 2 in 3 of whom are children. As one of the state’s largest insurers, SoonerCare is a significant driver in the economy in Oklahoma. Most working-age adults, however, are excluded from Medicaid in Oklahoma regardless of how little they make. The state has refused to extend coverage to this population under the Affordable Care Act.

Over the past decade, Medicaid costs have risen at a more modest pace than total health expenditures or premiums for employer-sponsored coverage.  Per capita costs for Medicaid patients are substantially less than for those covered by private health insurance. Oklahoma’s Medicaid costs are well below the national average.

The agency has faced funding shortages in recent years. OHCA has coped with budget cuts by slashing reimbursements to health care providers and hiking patient copayments to the federal maximum.

#4: Oklahoma provides nearly the lowest funding for mental health treatment in the nation despite high rates of mental illness

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in FY 2017 receiving $325 million in state funding and an additional $100 million from federal and other sources. This agency supports community-based mental health care through contracts with a network of local community mental health centers, alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs, and operates state mental hospitals for adults and youth.

Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation for mental health spending per capita, even though we have among the highest rates of untreated mental illness. As a result of recent budget cuts to mental health, more than 70,000 Oklahomans had their access to needed counseling reduced, and planned expansions of successful, efficient programs, including mental health and drug courts and suicide prevention, were delayed.

#5: Of the state’s health agencies, the Department of Health has been cut most in recent years

The Oklahoma State Department of Health received approximately $55 million in state appropriations in FY 2017 and approximately $200 million in federal grants, as well as substantial amounts from fees and local property taxes that help operate county health departments. State funding to the Oklahoma Department of Health has been cut by more than one-quarter since 2009.

This agency helps eligible families with family planning, children’s health, child abuse prevention, dental care, and identification of developmental, speech and hearing, and other problems in children. The Department of Health also offers community health services, prevents and controls communicable diseases, and regulates many health care providers.

#6: Oklahoma’s uninsured rate has decreased as a result of the Affordable Care Act – but not nearly as much as it could have

In 2015, Oklahoma had the third-highest uninsured rate in the US (13.9 percent), below only Texas and Alaska. This is in large part due to Oklahoma’s refusal to accept federal funds to expand access to care for low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which leaves more than 100,000 people without access to health coverage. However, about 130,000 Oklahomans got coverage through the new marketplace on Healthcare.gov. Of those who did, more than 8 in 10 received a subsidy to help pay for their coverage. On average, these subsidies reduced their monthly premiums from nearly $400 to under $100.

#7: High uninsured rates are threatening rural hospitals

Our high uninsured rate puts pressure on the health care system as a whole, particularly hospitals. More than half of Oklahoma’s rural hospitals operated at a loss between 2009 and 2013, and several have closed, jeopardizing access to care for whole regions of the state. Last spring, a proposed 25 percent reimbursement cut to Medicaid providers would have forced 4 in 5 hospitals to cut programs like obstetrics because they would be unable to pay for them. It also would have left 9 in 10 nursing homes in the red. High uninsured rates mean that those with health insurance pay more for their coverage, since they’re subsidizing uncompensated care for the uninsured as well.

#8: Oklahoma has proven policy options to improve our health

Last year, Governor Fallin proposed the Medicaid Rebalancing Act of 2020, which would have accepted federal funds to cover the uninsured and increased the tobacco tax to stabilize payments to health care providers. The Rebalancing Act did not get support in the Legislature last year, but the federal dollars are still on the table if Oklahoma chooses to accept them.

On a local level, recent coordinated efforts to decrease the life expectancy gap between zip codes in North Tulsa and South Tulsa show that turning Oklahoma’s dismal health outcomes around is possible. It just takes both recognition of the issue and willingness to provide the resources needed to create real change.

Education Funding Facts and Upcoming Events with TOK!

by | January 11th, 2017

Much of America’s prosperity is thanks to our long history of public investments in education. In fact, article 13 of Oklahoma’s Constitution declares:

“The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.”

You saw last week in our 8 key facts about Oklahoma’s budget (#betterok Budget Bootcamp) that common education receives the largest slice of our appropriations budget.  And we’ve all become painfully aware that shrinking that whole pie shrinks the education slice too.  

For this 2nd week of the #betterok Budget Bootcamp, we invite you to take a closer look at these 8 key facts about education funding in Oklahoma (#Betterok Budget Bootcamp) because it is essential that we all know why:

  • #1: Education is the key to prosperity across the states
  • #2: Education is the largest part of the state appropriations budget
  • #3: Most state K-12 education funding goes directly to local districts
  • #4: Local schools are very dependent on state funding
  • #5: Oklahoma has made the deepest cuts in the nation to per pupil state aid funding in recent years
  • #6: Oklahoma teacher pay is lowest in our region and near the lowest in the nation
  • #7: The lottery helps some, but Oklahoma has lost more education funding to tax cuts than we gained from the lottery
  • #8: A large majority of Oklahoma school spending goes directly to services for students and support for teachers

Find more about these 8 key facts HERE on our togetherok.org weekly blog.

Together Oklahoma Events Coming Up in January

January 14th– TOK Norman – Legislative 101 from 2-4pm at the Norman Public Library (keep an eye on the Facebook event and your email to see if weather postpones this event.)

January 16thMarching with Together Oklahoma in the OKC MLK day parade.
January 16th– Marching with Together Oklahoma in the Tulsa MLK day parade.

January 19thTOK OKC Happy Hour

January 26th– Oklahoma Policy Institute State Budget Summit
buy your tickets here. 

January 28th– TOK Tulsa: Legislative 101

January 29thTOK OKC: Legislative 101 

February 6th– State of the State and the Start of the Session

February 6thTOK OKC Happy Hour

Events with some other great Oklahoma groups:

January 17th– Norman Women Lead Networking Event

January 17thLeague of Women Voters Tulsa – Mid-Day Unit Meeting

January 20thUCO Voter’s Issue Forum

January 23rdLeague of Women Voters Tulsa – North Tulsa Unit Meeting

January 24thLeague of Women Voters Tulsa – Breakfast Unit Meeting

January 28th– Pipeline to Politics with the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition

February 9thLet’s Fix This: Info & Training Session

Find these events and more on our TOK and Community Calendar and remember to sign up for our local TOK chapters if you haven’t already done so.