The effects of welfare reform on Oklahoma residents; what local groups are doing to address poverty

Posted at 9:35 PM, Aug 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 00:53:19-04

TULSA -- A New York Times columnist recently compared parts of Oklahoma to a third world nation.

Each year Nicholas Kristof takes a group of college students to report from the poorest nations. This year, Kristof traveled to Tulsa to study the effects of welfare reform.

For 20-year-old Bobby Clayton, getting out of the poverty cycle is a never-ending battle.

"Having to be able to find a way to make money is really hard especially in my situation," he said.

Clayton still suffers repercussions from a 2014 car wreck.

"The main part was my lungs and my stomach, it made my stomach to where the bottom part doesn't work," Clayton said.

Unable to work, Clayton collects social security disability, but he does not collect welfare.

"If I would have gotten on food stamps they would not have given me enough to even survive on," he said.

Clayton turns instead to family and friends when times are hard.

"I'd be a lot poorer my grandparents and my dad help me out tremendously my friends help me out tremendously," he said.

Nineteen percent of every family in Tulsa County lives below the poverty line. It's a hidden epidemic right in our backyard.

Colleen Ayers-Griffin, a Senior Planner at Maternal and Child Health works with families and children struggling with poverty. 

"If that's not your environment, if that's not something that you see it's hard to understand and believe that that happens," Ayers-Griffin said.

But it is happening, more often now than ever according to the most recent census data.

Griffin works to ensure kids have a healthy start to life. She says the deeply rooted poverty problem is often a cycle for families.

"It's caused by so many different factors and we have to be willing to look at not just we got to fix that person we got to look at ourselves and we've got to come together and figure out what this community needs," she said.

But while the number of people living in poverty rises-the number of people getting government assistance is declining.

Before 1996, Oklahoma provided cash assistance to half of all families living in poverty in the state.

Today, the cash assistance goes to fewer than one in 10 poor families, making some social workers feel like they're fighting a constant uphill battle.

"The challenges that we face is funding crisis and trying to just get services and get people the help that they need on budgets that are being cut right and left," Ayers-Griffin said.

For Clayton, a fourth generation resident of Oakhurst, moving on and moving up are dreams he'll keep chasing, despite the odds.

"I hope to see myself in bigger better places in 10 years, hope to not still be here," he said.

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