Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Federal public-assistance funds are paying for the rebuilding of Plaza Towers Elementary School, in which seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado. The school is expected to open next month.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

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Native American
11:38 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Cherokee Nation Raising Minimum Wage

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker
Credit Cherokee Nation

The chief of one of the largest Native American tribes in the country has announced that the tribe is raising its minimum wage.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed an executive order last week raising the minimum wage for tribal employees to $9.50 over the next two years.

The tribe's current minimum wage is $9 per hour. Some workers will see the increase starting Oct. 1, while others will see a staggered increase over the fiscal year.

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State Budget
11:37 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Government Budget Hurting Again In Oklahoma

Credit 201(k) 2013 / Flickr.com

The Oklahoma Policy Institute says although Oklahoma is now several years removed from the worst of the fiscal crisis that accompanied the Great Recession, the state continues to face significant budget challenges.

Funding levels have never fully recovered to pre-downturn levels, revenue collections are falling again, and the resources to address critical state needs are lacking.

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School Choice
9:42 am
Mon February 24, 2014

School-Choice Push: Education Savings Accounts And A ‘Parent Trigger’ Law

Oklahoma Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City)
Credit Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

Four years ago, state Rep. Jason Nelson challenged the status quo in education by authoring the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act. The measure allowed parents of special-needs students to use state dollars to pay private school tuition and other educational expenses. About 280 students are now participating.

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Corrections
8:41 am
Mon February 24, 2014

New Corrections Chief Open To Expanding Private-Prison Use

Robert Patton is the new Oklahoma Corrections Dept. director.
Credit Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

In Robert C. Patton, Oklahoma is getting a new corrections director from Arizona who is more than willing to use private prisons as a means to deal with inmate overcrowding.

“I’m a (prison) bed manager. I’ll tell the policy makers I need beds, and if I can convince them that I need beds, then it’s their jobs on whether it’s public or private,” said Patton, whose first day as Oklahoma Corrections Department director began Tuesday.

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State Capitol
8:21 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Oklahoma's Dept. Of Human Services Needs $33 Million This Year

Oklahoma DHS Director Ed Lake
Credit Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services

The director of Oklahoma's Department of Human Services is asking lawmakers to appropriate almost $33 million in state tax dollars to operate the agency through the end of June.

DHS director Ed Lake will discuss the supplemental funding request on Monday at a meeting of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services.

In a letter to state officials, Lake says the agency has encountered several funding problems since the 2013 legislative session, when lawmakers approved the agency's budget for the fiscal that ends June 30.

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Oklahoma Tornado Project
7:30 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Taxing Times For Oklahoma Tornado Survivors

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak speaks at a tax forum for tornado survivors.
Credit Kate Carlton

While many view tax season as a nuisance, it can be especially frustrating for people struggling to rebound from disasters, like the deadly tornadoes that swept through the state last May.  

Some residents of central Oklahoma lost homes, cars and old tax documents, so they’re confused and unsure how to proceed, and that’s left many tornado alley taxpayers with lots of questions. 

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The Two-Way
6:29 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Resignations In Egypt May Be Prelude To General's Presidential Run

Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in April 2013.
Jim Watson AP

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 9:42 am

In something of a surprise, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced Monday that his entire Cabinet is stepping down.

From Cairo, NPR's Leila Fadel says the prime minister gave no reason for the mass resignation.

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The Two-Way
5:56 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Ukraine's Yanukovych On Run From Mass Murder Charge

In Kiev's Independence Square, flowers have been left in memory of protesters killed there in recent days.
Jeff J Mitchell Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 7:10 am

Viktor Yanukovych, ousted Saturday from his post as president of Ukraine, is now wanted by authorities in his country on charges of mass murder, the acting interior minister says.

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The Edge
1:28 pm
Sun February 23, 2014

Flame Goes Out In Sochi, Torch Passes To Pyeongchang

Pyrotechnics explode over dancers formed into the Olympic rings during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Sunday.
David J. Phillip AP

Originally published on Sun February 23, 2014 12:42 pm

This post was last updated at 1:40 p.m. ET.

The torch has officially been passed. The 22nd Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are over with all the drama in the competition and not over safety and security during the 17 days of the events, as many had feared.

Outdoor fireworks rattled Sochi's Fisht Stadium as the Olympic flame was set to be extinguished Sunday. Winners and losers in the international competition now will have to look east to South Korea to test their Olympic mettle in the contest for medals four years from now, in 2018.

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The Two-Way
6:49 am
Sun February 23, 2014

Last Of The 'Sound Of Music' Von Trapps Dies At 99

Maria von Trapp in 2008 at the age of 93. The daughter of Austrian Baron Georg von Trapp points to her father on an old family picture. She died on Tuesday at her home in Vermont.
Kerstin Joensson AP

Originally published on Sun February 23, 2014 12:29 pm

Maria von Trapp, the last surviving member of the seven original Trapp Family Singers — the Austrian family that inspired the 1965 film The Sound of Music -- has died at 99 at her home in Vermont.

Von Trapp, whose family escaped Nazi Germany, died on Tuesday of natural causes, her brother Johannes von Trapp said, according to the New York Daily News.

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