Whatzup Politics (1163)
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives maintained a modified affordable housing tax credit program by passing House Bill 2760 on Thursday.
To help balance the $1.4 billion budget hole projected for Fiscal Year 2021, a number of areas of state spending were modified. In HB 2760, the State Affordable Housing Tax Credit was maintained by reducing the limit on new 10-year tax credits issued to qualified homebuilders from $4 million a year to $2 million a year, saving the state $110 million over the next decade.
“When you’re facing a 17% budget hole, difficult decisions get made that can be reevaluated when revenues return. This is one of those cases,” said House Appropriations and Budget Vice Chairman Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow. “This program will be able to maintain operations under a reduced credit amount until it can be reevaluated when state revenues rebound.” The state Incentive Evaluation Commission recommended the credit be modified after finding it had not yet produced a positive return on investment for the state.
“Legislators had to decide how to fund core services in a pandemic, and we did that by making modifications such as this one,” Hilbert said. “I recognize this is a topic that will need to continue to be discussed, and I thank my colleagues for their honest debate on this bill. I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to examine better ways to assist impoverished communities than giving tax credits to developers.”
HB 2760 was part of the FY 2021 budget agreement and it now heads to the Senate.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) announced on May 6, 2020, that the state agency received $50 million in additional funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for a Child Care Development Block Grant. State Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, along with other members of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress, have been working with their local daycares and talking with DHS on the needs of providing additional funding directly to daycares from the federal funding, as many of the state daycares are struggling with low attendance due to parents being out of work.
“This has led to approximately 850 daycares already closing their businesses with many other businesses not sure if they can survive,” Kiger said. “This leaves many who are concerned about whether the state will have adequate daycare facilities when Oklahomans return to work. “At this point, while many daycares have closed and many others struggle and are about to close, it’s a very valid question that lawmakers and DHS must consider regarding the use of the infusion of $50 million in CARES Act dollars that are available,” Kiger said.
He points out CARES Act funding parameters awarded additional funding to DHS and tasked the agency with properly managing the $50 million. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided several relevant key uses for funds of the CARES Act for childcare that were outlined as the intent of the funds, he said. The first point provided to the state was that funds may be used to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to the Coronavirus, and to assure they are able to remain open or to reopen.
To date, DHS hasn’t considered using funds in this manner as approximately 38 states have done by providing funds directly to daycare businesses in different forms and amounts, Kiger said. He noted there are other options available for DHS in how they may use these funds. He said the decision DHS has made from the parameters provided through the guidance provided by the CARES Act is acceptable, but he questions whether the decision by DHS to not fund existing daycares that are struggling is what is best for childcare and this industry. “But, with all Oklahoma daycares now experiencing difficult financial conditions due from the pandemic and children staying at home, and over 850 daycares closed this year in the state, is the money going to the right people to make sure we have daycares open when parents go back to work?” Kiger asked.
To help answer questions from the May 6 announcement that DHS issued stating that the majority of the $50 million is going directly to parents for 60 days of childcare, Kiger asked DHS the following questions that he hopes will be answered in a meeting to be held with legislators and Congressman Mullin next week:
- How much of the $50 million goes directly to parents searching for a job?
- How many parents or homes will receive this funding?
- How is the money being distributed to parents, and will it be issued by debit card?
- Will daycare use be the only use possible for parents in using these funds?
- If a parent uses these funds for job searching and finds work, do they continue using the card until it runs out of funds for childcare at daycares until they reach 60 days of use?
- What happens to any funds that parents don’t use? Will it remain on the card or after a certain date does the card shut off and remaining funds go back to DHS?
- Under CARES Act funding parameters, the first point provided to the state and possibly the intent of the Act says that funds may be used to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to the Coronavirus, and to assure that they are able to remain open or to reopen. With over approximately 850 daycares that have shut down in Oklahoma to date this year, did or will DHS consider using any of the funds going directly to daycares remaining open that are struggling with low attendance (as approximately 38 state are doing to some degree)? We as a state are seeing daycares closing every day.
- Is DHS concerned that daycares closing each day may not provide adequate daycares in our state in being available when parents do find work and need childcare?
- What is the percentage of the $50 million that DHS can use for administrative costs?
- How much does DHS pay on the average monthly for parents for daycare subsidy pay?
- How much monthly is DHS not having to fund for subsidy pay per the budget during the pandemic due to parents being home and not allowed under DHS rules to take their children to daycare and subsidy money not being used? Is this creating a surplus of money in the DHS budget?
- Would DHS be open to holding a meeting with the top three childcare association board members to discuss the current state of daycares in Oklahoma and work together to address the closings and financial issues our daycare providers are having to stay open for business?
Lundy Kiger represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of LeFlore County.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, today secured passage of Senate Bill 210 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Kannady authored an amendment to the bill, which will protect election integrity through the absentee ballot process including during the period of pandemic.
The measure passed 74-26. “Oklahomans have said they want elections secure and free from fraud,” Kannady said. “This legislation provides election integrity and protects public safety and public health during this time when people are still concerned about the spread of COVID-19.” Kannady, a Marine and an active member of the Oklahoma National Guard, said he and his fellow service members have been willing to shed blood to secure the right for United States citizens to vote. He likens voter fraud to the issue of stolen valor.
He cited recent examples of unemployment fraud as proof this measure is needed. He points out that under this measure, voters still can safely cast absentee ballots in the upcoming June 30 election without having to go to the polls or use a notary. To vote using an absentee ballot on June 30, they simply would need to make a copy of their identification and put it in an absentee ballot envelope, no notary needed. This should be easy for every voter, Kannady said. Showing identification to vote is standard practice at the polls. There are additional provisions for residents of nursing homes, veteran’s centers and other long-term care facilities. After the June 30 election, voters would need to have absentee ballots notarized, a practice that has been in Oklahoma statute for 18 years without issue.
Kannady said the absentee ballot notary requirement keeps elections secure and without fraud. A recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling did not say absentee ballots can’t be notarized; the court merely ruled that absentee ballot statute relied on the wrong section of law to require notarization. The court examined the issue after a group of citizens identified a concern during the pandemic. The court found a technical issue in the statute. Kannady said he’s glad the citizen group filed the lawsuit, because the court’s guidance will make the statute on the issue stronger.
“We used the court’s guidance to draft a workable solution that addressed the concerns of all Oklahomans,” Kannady said. “This is a great example of how the checks and balances process in government works to the benefit of all citizens.” Kannady said this bill specified voting procedures in pandemics so the state can be prepared for the June election and if the pandemic occurs again. If a public health emergency is declared within 45 days of an election, which is expected to be the case for the June 30 election, the law allows for three tiers of absentee voting. Healthy people can vote with the required absentee ballot documentation. Nursing facility and veterans’ center resident can vote absentee under existing Election Board procedures for those facilities that would be enhanced by allowing a facility official to be deputized by an election official to enter the facility to collect required documentation. People incapacitated by COVID-19 who cannot leave their home or facility can be given absentee ballots to complete using the required documentation.
Chris Kannady represents District 91 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Oklahoma City in Cleveland County.
Mullin Urges House Leaders to Include Funding for IHS, Tribal Health Facilities in Next Relief Package
WASHINGTON— Congressmen Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA), along with 45 of their House colleagues, sent a letter urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to include funding for Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal Health Programs and Urban Indian Organizations (I/T/U) in the next relief package to recover from significant COVID-19 related losses in revenue.
“During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many I/T/U facilities have stopped conducting elective procedures and limited most non-COVID-19 related care. As a result, these facilities have experienced a drastic reduction in third-party reimbursements. These reimbursements are essential to allow programs to make payroll, expand services, and provide quality care to patients. Without an emergency coronavirus relief fund to help I/T/U sites, tribal health care facilities may be in danger of closing, and the health disparities that already exist in Indian Country will become further exacerbated,” the lawmakers wrote.
“In order to ensure the sustainability and operational health of I/T/U sites around the country, we urge you to include a significant coronavirus relief appropriation specifically dedicated to supporting I/T/U health care facilities. This will ensure that funding is provided in a way that more closely meets the needs of all IHS assisted facilities,” the lawmakers continued.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Reps Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, and David Smith, R-McAlester, today announced an additional shipment of surplus equipment from storage at one facility being placed into service at another. Belfair of McAlester, an assisted living community, reached out to Rep. Grego about a need for some additional tray tables for the delivery of meals to their residents.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many residents are now required to dine in their rooms instead of in the community dining room. Rep. Grego checked with a couple of local hospitals about the availability of some tray tables to no avail. After checking with the officials at The Talihina Veterans Center, it was evident that several had been deemed surplus and placed into storage. Rep. Grego thanks Reps. Smith and Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, along with Joel Kintsel, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and Deputy Director Sarah Lane for making this transfer take place.
“In these extraordinary times, it takes state and private entities working together to act in extraordinary ways to benefit all our citizens as we work our way through this health crisis,” Grego said. “I was happy to help assist with meeting this need and making sure McAlester assisted living residents are taken care of during this time,” Smith said.
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
Oklahomans are no strangers to severe weather. From one day to the next, we know Mother Nature can have a mind of her own, but springtime often delivers the worst storms of the year. It’s important to ensure our families are prepared to handle emergencies and severe weather. Make sure you are signed up for emergency notifications in your area and that your weather radio is working so you are informed of the latest information. Take the time now to clean out your storm shelter or pick a safe room in your house, like a basement or interior room without windows, for you to go during a storm.
I also encourage you to sit down with your family and make a plan so that when disaster strikes, everyone knows exactly what to do. You can visit www.ready.gov to learn more about how to handle different natural disasters that may occur. You’ll be able to get information on flood safety, where to take shelter during a tornado, and what to pack in your emergency kit.
We know that it’s not a matter of if bad weather will happen, but when. Many communities across the district have already experienced severe storms. Just last week, tornadoes ripped through Madill and sadly, claimed the lives of two individuals. Since we are only part way through tornado season, there will surely be more to come.
When it comes to emergency preparedness, we should all hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Be proactive and make sure your family has a plan to stay safe in the event of any inclement weather.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, is calling on the State Department of Education to cancel and resubmit its proposed rules on waivers from new school year calendar requirements limiting four-day school weeks that are favored by many rural districts.
Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 441, which requires school districts to use school years with a minimum of 165 days and at least 1,080 hours, beginning in the 2021-22 school year. The change essentially prevents four-day school weeks unless a waiver is obtained. Many rural districts are relying on the waiver to continue school weeks that work best for their communities. The waiver rules required by SB 441 that were produced by the State Department of Education and Board of Education have not been finalized by the Legislature.
“In the current state of the Oklahoma economy, it is more important than ever before that we fully consider the consequences of requiring our rural districts to add days to their calendars,” Conley said. “The rules the State Department of Education proposed make it far too difficult to obtain a waiver from these requirements, contrary to the clear desire of legislators who worked hard to include a fair waiver process in this bill. While many of us still have concerns with this law, the law is the law, and this law called for a fair waiver process that the State Department of Education’s rules fail to provide.” Discussions that were underway about the State Department of Education’s need to modify details in its proposed rules have been affected by the ongoing pandemic response.
Conley, a former teacher and school administrator, said the State Department of Education should resume discussions with legislators and local stakeholders about the rules when the pandemic passes. “Without adequate discussion to get these rules right and fully approved, what was intended to be a flexible compromise could turn into a heavy-handed mandate for some of our most vulnerable school districts,” Conley said. “Legislators worked hard to protect local control in this legislation, and I urge the State Department of Education to respect that sentiment.”
Conley added: “The pandemic created further problems with implementing this law due to the cancellation of student assessments, gaps in attendance data, and other factors that were to be considered in the waivers. Given all these problems, I am requesting the State Department of Education to go back to the drawing board and have further discussions with stakeholders when the pandemic passes to refine these rules and resubmit them to the Legislature.”
Also joining in Conley’s request to SDE regarding SB 441 are State Reps. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton; Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont; Dean Davis, R-Broken Arrow; Tom Gann, R-Inola; Jim Grego, R-Wilburton; Ronny Johns, R-Ada; Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau; Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow; Jim Olsen, R-Roland; Logan Phillips, R-Mounds; Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay; Judd Strom, R-Copan; Johnny Tadlock, R-Idabel; John Talley, R-Stillwater; and Tammy Townley R-Ardmore.
Sherrie Conley represents District 20 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Cleveland, Garvin, McClain and Pottawatomie counties.
WASHINGTON— Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) released the following statement after the House passed H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which provides critical funding to help small businesses during this pandemic.
“Over 35,000 businesses in Oklahoma have already received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program to help them keep their doors open and employees at work,” Mullin said. “But there are thousands more who have been waiting and need help while Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer played politics with their livelihoods.
There is not one business out there that is not hurting right now and as a business owner, I understand how important this program is not just for the businesses, but also for their employees. I am glad that we were able to get this done and that businesses who were left behind can finally get the assistance they need.”
H.R. 266 includes:
$310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). o $30 billion is reserved for institutions $50 billion and under.
$30 billion is reserved for institutions $10 billion and under.
$50 billion for the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program; each loan can be up to $2 million with interest rates not to exceed 4% and long-term repayment periods of up to 30 years.
$10 billion for EIDL grants of up to $10,000 that do not have to be repaid.
$75 billion for hospitals and health care providers on the front lines.
$25 billion for expanded testing.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) released the following statement after Governor Kevin Stitt announced plans to begin reopening businesses.
“The governor’s decision to reopen Oklahoma businesses early comes from a place of fear, and it is understandable for him to be worried about the long-term economic effects of this pandemic. However, in this time of uncertainty, it is crucial not to make decisions hastily and out of fear but out of fact.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued clear guidelines on when states should begin reopening, and at this moment, Oklahoma does not meet those criteria. Furthermore, since the beginning of this crisis, we have failed to administer proper testing or tracing that is needed to ensure Oklahoma meets the CDC guidelines.
Reopening without proper data and against the scientific community puts Oklahoma workers in a dangerous position to have to choose between their safety and their job.
We urge the governor to reconsider until better data is available.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) today released the following statement regarding Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan, announced this afternoon, to begin the process of reopening Oklahoma: “Oklahomans have done a great job in banding together to flatten the curve of infections and protect their vulnerable neighbors.
We’ve seen this evidenced in the decrease of the projected number of cases in our state. However, it’s time to support our state’s business owners and let Oklahomans return to work. The plan and phases outlined today by Governor Stitt give common sense guidelines for industries to maintain social distancing practices and continue increased sanitation efforts.
Protecting the health of Oklahomans is vital, and the Governor’s phased plan will balance these health and sanitation guidelines with protecting the health of our state’s economy before any further damage is done.
I commend Governor Stitt for his wise leadership during this difficult time.”