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Study: Pandemic Taking Troubling Toll on Oklahoma Families

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A new report finds Oklahoma families are experiencing several pain points during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With lost wages, closed schools and lack of child care, the KIDS COUNT report based on Census Bureau data found 40% of Oklahoma adults with kids said they’re having trouble paying for usual household expenses. More than 30% worry about eviction or foreclosure in the coming months.

Nearly 20% are without health insurance, and 13% say they don’t always have enough to eat.

Things are even worse for families of color.

Families who identify as Latinx, two or more races, or other are uninsured at about twice the rate of white families. Black and Latinx families were twice as likely to say they had no confidence in paying the rent or mortgage next month. And based on local data, some families of color have food insecurity rates more than triple that of white families.

"Going into this, we had significant racial disparities across a lot of these indicators already that are the result of policy choices, and the policy choices that we have made during the pandemic have just exacerbated those same disparities," said Oklahoma Policy Institute Policy Director Carly Putnam.

Oklahoma Policy Institute recommends several steps lawmakers can take to help families recover from the pandemic, like increasing revenue and prioritizing it for essential services, providing tenants facing eviction with legal help and representation, and expanding Medicaid immediately rather than putting it off until July 1.

"It doesn’t have to be this way. Like, Oklahoma kids do not have to be experiencing the very, very stark issue that this report clearly indicates that they are," Putnam said.

Other recommendations include making the state's earned income tax credit refundable again and giving schools funding so they can hire enough counselors to reach a ratio of 250 students per counselor.

Oklahoma Policy Institute has been Oklahoma's KIDS COUNT affiliate since 2018. The program is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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