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Researchers Explore Complicating Factors In Oklahoma's Public Assistance System

Facebook / Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Oklahoma's system of public assistance programs can be "complicated and unpredictable" for low-income residents who depend on it, according to a new report.

"These programs, many of them have the avowed purpose of helping people move from needing assistance to self-sufficiency," said Paul Shinn, budget and tax senior policy analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute and co-author of the report. "They can and do do that, and they succeed for many Oklahomans, but the path is pretty rough sometimes."

Shinn and University of Central Oklahoma political science professor Kenneth Kickham looked at "cliff effects" -- when an increase in pay can result in ineligibility for prior benefits, sometimes resulting in a net loss of income.

"The programs do a pretty good job for most people of keeping you, you know, at something that is like, I can stay alive with this amount of money," Shinn said. "But then what happens is that starts phasing out if I go from $7 to $10 an hour, say -- I may have no more resources available to me."

"The upcoming legislative session will be an opportunity for Oklahoma to address and adequately fund vital, state-level assistance programs and tax benefits that allow low-income Oklahomans to take a job or increase hours without fear of losing key benefits that allow them to work in the first place," said Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director Ahniwake Rose in a statement accompanying the report's release.

Shinn and Kickham recommend a number of policy steps for the state legislature during their upcoming session, including the maintenance of eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and an increase in maximum income level for Medicaid for children. 

"We are going to be optimistic that there are enough Oklahomans out there directly affected, or know someone who's directly affected, that the legislature will listen," Shinn said.

"Really, on all of these things, we're very confident that the state will figure out, at some point, that these are important changes to make that are better for everyone in the state, whether they get assistance or not," he said.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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