“It’s all interconnected,” Oklahoma representative says education funding plays bigger role in other state issues

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OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma representative says he believes that funding education will not only appease teachers, but it could also help solve a lot of other issues facing the state.

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D- Oklahoma City, made the argument while fighting against House Bill 1270, which seeks to reform the state’s Medicaid program.

When the measure went before the House of Representatives, Rep. Forrest Bennett argued against the bill.

“I understand what we’re trying to do. I understand that there is an idea out here that the financial squeeze that we’re feeling right now is the result of the people on the lowest rungs of the ladder who are taking more than they deserve. I fundamentally disagree with this, but if we wanted to work together to lower the Medicaid rolls, there are a few things we could do. We could fully fund education, and I don’t just mean teacher pay raises. I mean fully fund with funding for schools, for extracurricular programs, for afterschool programs so that kids don’t, you know, fall through the cracks after school when they don’t have parental or guardian attention. We could implement true criminal justice reform…” Bennett said.

At that point, Rep. Bennett was interrupted and told to stay on topic of the bill.

“Mr. Speaker, this building, I fear, does not always understand how these things are interconnected. And people come to this building from all sorts of different backgrounds, all sorts of different expertise, I have personally studied government for a long time and I have worked in these communities that I talk about when I get up and debate and ask questions. And I’m telling you that the reason that we have so many people on Medicaid rolls today is in part because we have decimated our education funding, we have screwed up our criminal justice system. We have made it incredibly hard for someone getting out of prison to get back on work, which makes their families reliant on public services. We have spread out the tax burden in this state so that it literally cripples low-income people. We turn low income families into poverty stricken families who require social services. So all of this, yes, has to do with each other and I’m saying those are the ways we can reduce the Medicaid rolls if we want to talk about doing that. And instead, what we have done is we have decimated all of these resources and now we’re going to contract out some company that’s going to come through and kick more people off. And we will end up paying for it. It’s all interconnected and the sooner we understand that, the better, I think, for the state, for us, for our pocketbooks, for our ability to sleep at night knowing that we’re taking care of them,” he said.

A similar bill has already made its way through the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1030 would lower the eligibility for the parent/caretaker group to 20 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

“Our spending priorities are out of balance, inconsistent with what working Oklahomans want and this change is long overdue,” said Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate.  “Lowering the threshold for those who are able to work will result in $84 million in annual savings, which could be used to fund a $1,400 teacher pay raise, and do so without raising taxes on working families.”

According to Sen. Breechen, there are approximately 106,000 Oklahomans who are part of the parent/caretaker group who are receiving Medicaid coverage . He argues that those adults are not pregnant, nursing, disabled or blind.

It passed the Senate 25-17. SB 1030 now moves to the House for further consideration.

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