Oklahoma City religious and community leaders are raising questions about how power providers plan to recover an estimated $4.5 billion spent on fuel during February's severe winter storm.
Power providers spent so much in the wake of the storm, a customer who might normally see a $100 February bill could have seen a nearly $2,000 bill instead, with months of similar bills to follow.
Some legislators recently submitted plans to mitigate these costs over time, but leaders of the civic organization VOICE OKC want assurance the process won't pass unreasonable fuel costs on to consumers.
“If we as consumers are going to be asked to pay $4.5 billion, we deserve transparency,”
said Eric Jergensen, a VOICE member representing the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
[Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Advocates Call For Transparent Investigations Into Cost Spikes, The Norman Transcript [pdf]
In the face of impending evictions in Oklahoma, ACTION and VOICE-OKC leaders organized city councils from OK City, Tulsa, and Norman to urge the governor to expand the eviction moratorium in July. Governor Stitt responded by allocating $10 Million in state funds for a rental assistance grant program ($5 Million for Tulsa and $5 Million for Oklahoma City).
In Tulsa, ACTION was the first organization to go to the county with the idea for rental assistance, and leveraged $15 million for local residents. When the county attempted to claw back unspent funds at the end of October, ACTION leaders fought to keep $3.5 million for a brand new utility assistance program, which helped over 6,000 families.
In Oklahoma City, VOICE-OKC leaders were critical players in the fight for Oklahoma County to use $1.5 Million in CARES Acts funding for rental assistance. In combination with funds drawn down from the state, more that 5,200 families (estimated 17,368 people) were assisted.
Pastors and lay leaders from both organizations leaned into the fight to keep families sheltered, ultimately protecting tens of thousands across the state.
[Photo Credit: Video/ACTION Tulsa]
Rental Assistance, Small Business Relief Programs Announced, The Oklahoman [pdf]
Tulsa County Organization Provides Rental Assistance, News On 6 [pdf]
Greg R. Taylor: Love Your Neighbor, Don't Evict Him, Tulsa World [pdf]
Good News Week 2021, ACTION Tulsa
The council passed a resolution calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to temporarily block residential evictions unless a landlord is responding to a tenant’s criminal behavior or dangerous activities.
“We’re really just asking the governor to pay attention to Oklahomans who are really struggling right now” as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, said City Councilor Lori Decter Wright, one of the sponsors of the resolution.
The push for a statewide eviction moratorium started with a Tulsa religious coalition known as ACTION and a similar group called VOICE-OKC in Oklahoma City, where the City Council has said it will vote on a similar resolution.
In effect until July 25, a federal moratorium already applies to rental properties that have federally backed mortgages, but the Tulsa City Council wants the same protection for tenants in all rental properties.
Landlords would benefit, as well, said Councilor Kara Joy McKee, explaining that tenants would ultimately still have to pay their rents in full but would have more time to seek employment or government assistance.
“Our tenants and landlords need this support at this time,” McKee said.
[Photo credit: Joey Johnson, Tulsa World]
Clergy from across the state are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to designate these grocery workers as first responders, hoping that this recognition will help them in more ways than one during the COVID-19 crisis.
"They are literally risking their lives to be with the public every day, ensuring that families across Oklahoma can have access to the food they need in order to survive," the Rev. Diana Davies wrote in a recent letter emailed to Stitt.
Davies, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, wrote on behalf of 40 Oklahoma clergy and religious sisters affiliated with Voices Organized in Civic Engagement. The group, also known as VOICE, is a coalition of more than two dozen metro-area congregations and nonprofits.
In her letter, Davies said giving grocery workers the first responders' designation would recognize the workers for the "vital role" they are playing in the current emergency but also help draw down federal funds that would keep more money circulating in Oklahoma.
She said the federal dollars could be used for childcare for grocery workers' families, medical testing for the coronavirus should they need it, treatment for COVID-19 if necessary and greater access to personal protective equipment.
"Our organization represents thousands of families across Oklahoma, and many of our loved ones are working tirelessly in stores to keep our supply chains functioning," she wrote. "We would love to tell them that our governor honors their courage and their service at this time."
[Photo Credit: Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma City voters will decide on Dec. 10 whether to extend the MAPS penny sales tax for eight years to fund nearly $1 billion in projects. An estimated $115 million would go toward Chesapeake and the Thunder’s practice facility in northwest Oklahoma City....
In addition to the Chesapeake money, MAPS 4 proposes a $37 million soccer stadium on a site to be determined. Much of the rest of the money in MAPS 4 would be directed to social services, including mental health and homelessness, and to parks and recreation centers.
Sundra Flansburg, a board member of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE), which pushed for the social components to be included, said the group is backing the MAPS 4 package and accepts the sports facility funding as necessary to attract broader support.
She said the sports facilities are “not our favorite part of it, but we are very excited about the rest of it. … Politics is politics. And we got a much, much better package.”
[Photo Credit: Dave Morris, The Oklahoman]
Earlier this year, Tena Jefferson received a late-night call from Oklahoma City police while she was out of town. Her house had been broken into, and the officer had the suspect in custody.
It was a family member who was dealing with mental illness problems and had recently been released from the hospital.
“The officer was very, very nice when I explained the situation,” Jefferson recalled. “But he said the only thing I could do is either charge him or (the officer) could turn him loose on the street. Those were my two options. Neither one acceptable.”
This story is not unique to members of VOICE, a local civic engagement organization made up of worker’s groups, various nonprofits, church congregations and others....
[Photo Credit: Phil Landsberger, The Oklahoman]
Dr. Gary Sims’ story [above] is one of dozens we have heard about student loan debt. Most of the stories come from public education teachers, social workers and other professionals who will never earn a physician’s salary.
While researching the topic of student loan debt, we have heard from people whose Social Security checks, disability checks and paychecks are being garnished. In response to stories like these and quantitative data, financial experts, economists and politicians are labeling student loan debt as a “crisis,” one that can no longer be ignored.
While it may seem overwhelming to think about change at the national level, there are actions that can be taken at the state and local level, and Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) is pursuing them. Using tools of broad-based organizing, ACTION teaches members to cross lines of race, ethnicity, class and religion to challenge social injustices facing families and communities.
ACTION has developed a presentation that is being given in Tulsa congregations and universities. This presentation provides guidance on student loan debt. ACTION is also studying how debt collectors engage with consumers. Forty percent of Oklahomans have at least one debt in collections, which can range from student loan debt to credit card debt and medical debt.
Responding to concerns raised by VOICE, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office announced the establishment of a Citizens Advisory Board. The need for the board rose to the leaders’ attention in 2016 through small group conversations hosted by institutions, in which leaders heard alarming stories about prison conditions and lack of transparency in the filing of complaints. At a 2017 accountability session, the Sheriff publicly committed to establishing the committee, if elected.
The Citizens Advisory Board will be formed by a diverse group of citizens interested in participating in the conversation with the Sheriff’s office and will serve as a sounding board to the Sheriff in all aspects of the agency. According to Sundra Flansburg, a leader with VOICE, the “CAB will be a great way for citizens to learn more about the jail and provide input on potential solutions for issues.”
At the same time, it offers citizens an opportunity to engage in the democratic process beyond the vote.
Oklahoma County Sheriff Forming Citizens Advisory Board, The Oklahoman
In preparation for the Oklahoma City Council Election on February 12th, leaders of Voice OKC held an accountability session with candidates to hear their positions on aspects that tie in with concerns they have identified at their institutions through conversations. In a full sanctuary, the candidates addressed the questions posed by Voice OKC leaders regarding the importance of improving sidewalks and bus stops, the need to raise the $200,000.00 city's budget for social services such as healthcare and housing, the emphasis on MAPS 4 projects that actually benefit the daily life of voters as opposed to large-capital projects and the search for a new Police chief who will avoid unrest and racial profiling.
By engaging with candidates through this accountability session, VOICE OKC leaders secure commitments from the candidates on issues identified by VOICE members and part of the community agenda. Following the accountability session, the leaders return to their institutions to reflect on the candidates’ articulated positions on each of the issues and proceed to the polls to make an informed voting decision. In this way, VOICE OKC leaders fulfill their mission: “to work within the democratic process with civic leaders and public officials on issues of concern to families.”
Oklahoma City council candidates hold forum, Fox 25 News