Gov. Tate Reeves, as was expected Monday, ignored the complaints and appeals of a large group of state legislators, advocates for the workers living below a living wage, and small business owners standing in solidarity against his coldhearted decision to return money to Washington already in the state’s hands for rental assistance to Mississippians who needed it.
Reeves, however, remains quiet on recent reports in the national media alleging that he was involved in the theft of $77 million in welfare money sent to the state by Washington under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
In a brazen upload on Twitter Monday, Reeves said with obvious disdain for the concerns of those working below a living wage and those who may become homeless, that he was shutting down the federally financed Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP) and was returning over $130 million to Washington.
“Mississippi will continue to say no to these types of liberal handouts that encourage people to stay out of the workforce. Instead, we’re going to say yes to conservative principles and policies that result in more people working,” he wrote.
Reeves’ most recent words and consistent disdain for the underresourced people of his state are reminiscent of James K. Vardaman (Gov. 1904-1908), who openly advocated the closing of Black public schools and the repeal of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Vardaman was the first of a long and continuing line of governors who earned for Mississippi the unenviable titles of the least respected and most backward among states.
Members of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, the People’s Advocacy Institute, and the MS Poor People’s Campaign, who had stood a hundred-strong only a week ago at the governor’s mansion to call out Reeves for his callous disregard for the needs and interests of deserving Mississippians, continued to express their ire at the state’s chief executive.
Danyelle Holmes, National Social Justice Organizer with Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign, and a member of the steering committee of the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition and the
People’s Advocacy Institute, reports that these organizations have “worked tirelessly” the last few months to get people signed onto the program.
“This program (RAMP) has just begun to gain traction,” she said. “It had a lot of glitches in it from the very start, and the program wasn’t necessarily working for the people. And now that the program is on track, the governor has decided to end this program, which will leave thousands homeless or facing evictions here in the state.”
State Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons of Greenville sought to remind Reeves that the money he was rejecting was needed in the effort to combat the COVID-19 crisis that had already effected close to a million Mississippians – from a total population of only 2.7 million – and that the money was not his to play with as he might want to.
“As much as $130 million in federal dollars will be sent back to the federal government if Governor Reeves does not change his stance,” Simmons said in his press release. “People continue to struggle with the high cost of food, medicine, childcare, and gasoline, among others. This money was meant to help those people maintain their lives and most importantly, to remain housed.”
Reeves said that applications in the pipeline before August 15 will continue to be processed, although there is no promise that the applicants will be accepted.
The governor, while always speaking in glowing terms about business opportunities in Mississippi, rarely displays any compassion or sympathy for the state’s working class, the incarcerated, and the people with disabilities. He regular touts the “millions of dollars” promised by the new businesses coming to the state since the high point of the pandemic, but when asked about increasing the $7.25 per hour minimum wage to a living wage, Reeves suddenly becomes tongue-twisted or addlebrained and unable to give a straight answer.
In his initial statement on August 3, he spoke of pushing back against “left-wing policies that pay people not to work.”
In his assessment of the RAMP, which is under the direction of the Mississippi Housing Corporation, Reeves cites MHC’s figures for 186,146 applications for RAMP services during the life of the program through August 3. Of that number, only 36,889 were approved; the number denied or withdrawn was 34,442. There remained roughly 110,000 applications that were unaccounted for in Reeves’ figures.
Reeves said, however, that the state will retain two programs that were in existence before RAMP – the Emergency Solutions Grant and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Judge Jaribu Hill, special master for Washington County Chancery Court and founder of the Workers Center for Human Rights, said state government leaders were failing in their obligations to work for the good of the people.
“The leadership of this state is not concerned about the condition of the poor,” she said. “This RAMP program was never sufficient. It was crumbs to begin with. We never had a full meal, but now you want to snatch away the crumbs that could be a lifeline for those who suffer already from no living wages, suffer from retaliation on their jobs, no paid sick leave, no paid time off, dying in COVID beds every day.
“People are being evicted. We need time to get people signed up. We don’t need a deadline. We need time.”
Hill appealed directly to the governor: “Suspend the deadline. Give people time to sign on, and advocate for more resources to come into this state.”
As a part of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan of 2021, the Mississippi Home Corporation announced the RAMP program on Mar. 29, saying $200 million was available.
The program operated under two names: ERA (Emergency Rental Assistance) and RAMP (Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program)
Eligible households would receive 15 months of rental assistance, the report said. Recipients must be unemployed at the time, on layoff, or facing homelessness, among other issues. Tenants and landlords were required to work together.
Many applicants within the state complained that it took more than three months for a request to be approved.
A brief glance at the MHC Facebook page shows the problems encountered by the applicants. In the great majority of cases, it was not the applicants’ fault.
Applicant Chinwe Carmon complained, “I don’t understand why my application was denied. I wasn’t given a reason nor a link to contact them afterward. If the funds were given to help the citizens, why are they not helping?”
One landlord who was cooperative and patient with the program delays said her tenant had been waiting “almost a year now.”
Another said, “I’m still waiting and it’s been eight months.”
“It’s just the disrespect Mississippians and the federal government have for Mississippi poor,” still another applicant said. “Things never change as they treat us like 3rd world citizens until it’s time to vote.”
In the ongoing investigation into the largest theft of public money in Mississippi history, Tate Reeves has been linked to former pro-football player and ex-Mississippi State football player Paul LaCoste, reportedly his personal trainer for 15 years. Attorney Brad Pigott, under contract to the Department of Human Services to prepare a lawsuit against at least 38 well-off whites implicated in the theft of TANF welfare funds, uncovered an intricate web of deceit and embezzlement.
Before he was fired, Pigott had discovered a paper trail linking Reeves to a $1.3 million contract LaCoste had obtained with DHS. The federal money was provided to help the state’s working poor, said Pigott, a former U. S. Attorney, according to an interview in the July 23 edition of the New York Times.
“I believe I was fired as a result of a pattern of orders from the Mississippi governor’s office concerning protecting an entity called the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation from any responsibility in this matter,” Pigott said.
LaCoste was just one of at least 38 people associated with the massive theft, a number of reports have verified. Pigott was shelved shortly after he began investigating the use of illegal funds for an athletic project at USM, allegedly at the behest of former Gov. Phil Bryant and retired football pro Brett Favre, both alumni of USM.
Meanwhile, after directing the DHS director to terminate Pigott on July 25, Reeves has declined to discuss the issue with the media.