Every effort the Democrats in the Mississippi House and Senate have made to put an end to one of the most corrupt welfare systems in the United States during the current legislative session has encountered Republican majority roadblocks and secret tactics to defeat them.
Representative Omeria Scott of Laurel took to the podium in the House on March 1 and denounced the tricks used by House Speaker Philip Gunn and his Republican underlings to push a vote on Senate Bill 2369 to extend the life of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), the scandal-ridden agency that gave tens of millions of dollars of federal welfare money each year to crooked schemes set up by friends and associates of Gov. Tate Reeves and former Gov. Phil Bryant.
The corrupt system established by former Gov. Kirk Fordice and his equally corrupt State Auditor Phil Bryant, who later became governor and lieutenant, began in 1996 with the federal government’s experiment with welfare reform known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Bryant and Fordice realized that they could deny 95 percent of the needy families of Mississippi, with no federal opposition, and shifted the TANF money that came in the form of a block grant to wholly non-public agencies and private individuals. At one point, less than one percent of the federal funds received by the state was used for the intended purposes. Counting an average of $86 million a year the state received for its TANF uses, more than $1.6 billion remains unaccounted for over the 27-year life of the program.
Scott denounced Gunn and his “thugs and hoodlums and reprobates” for pushing to restore DHS with a piece of legislation – SB2369 – without allowing any criticism of the agency. The bill originated in the Senate with senior Democrat Hob Bryan as the sponsor.
Even after the arrest of six top perpetrators and the indictment of over 38 suspects in both federal and state courts, DHS has actually cut back on its services to the poor rather than cleaning up its act since the arrest of the top six criminals in 2020 and allocating the federal funds to the needy.
“The reason I wanted to speak on this bill is because of the mission of the Department of Human Services,” Scott said.
DHS has several important departments that deserve vigilant oversight rather than the constant neglect they have received in recent years, she said. Among these are the Office of Youth Services, Senior Citizens Services, Children Services, and Field Operations that are all listed in the bill. The bill outlines the responsibilities this Department of Human Services has to these different groups. DHS, however, has made none of the obligatory reports required by its original funding bill, Scott said.
“We’re supposed to have an oversight committee for the Department of Human Services,” Scott said. “It’s in the bill. Now, have they met? I think we can safely say no. Now, you have an agency that the federal government is investigating, where the state government is also investigating, and the state auditor says he hasn’t seen this level of graft and corruption in the history of this state. And, yet, this agency is enacting legislation being brought before us and we don’t make one change, not one.
“We’ve had at least $100 million that’s been stolen. And we have not had one hearing to say we want to do something on how we oversee this committee. And, yet, we come in here and say we’re going to recall everybody that’s on the TANF program for recertification. We’re going to investigate all of these (poor) people. And we find two or three people out of compliance. But you’ve got $100 million stolen, with folks in rehab in Malibu and a bunch of thugs and hoodlums and reprobates stealing from the poorest people in the state of Mississippi, and we along with the Senate are supposed to oversee all of state government. We haven’t done anything.”
Scott said no one looking in on the DHS operations could have a clear insight into what the programs were about.
“There is no clear delineation of whether they’re supposed to have any outcome, whether positive or negative, or any best practices from the programs they have over at DHS,” she said.
Scott said she offered no amendments to the bill that was up for a vote in the House because her effort at offering an amendment would have been in vain.
One of Gunn’s handiest tactics is to let a Democrat propose an amendment for a bill like SB2369. And then immediately following the Democratic effort, he will entertain a motion by a Republican colleague to table the amendment, reassuring a sure death due to the 77-42 percent Republican majority that won’t allow the amendment a new life.
“I didn’t offer any amendments,” she said. “Why should I? We all know that it wasn’t going to pass. But as we go out and we have to face the system for re-election this year, it is going to be very difficult, I think, for us to go to the citizens of Mississippi and say that an agency has had $100 million stolen and that we have enacting legislation before us that will refund this agency, but we didn’t do anything about it.”
In years past, under Democratic control of the legislature, Scott said, DHS would have been held accountable and its funding denied without a thorough investigation of its misused funds.
“We sent this agency back four or five times when they did things that were inappropriate and that this House thought needed to be addressed,” she said. “This House, the people’s House, said to those people over there at DHS, ‘You got to do better. And to let you know you got to do better, we’re going to kill your enacting legislation.’”
Scott attributes the current plight of the state’s welfare system to the failed Republican leadership in all three branches of state government. Bryant, Reeves, and the senate under Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann are all part of the corrupt system and have enabled the most rapacious of the state’s welfare thieves to raid the state’s welfare coffers.
“Look at the programs DHS is doing right now,” she said. “You would laugh if you saw some of the programs these people are funding for millions and millions of dollars. But there was a time when the DHS funded churches to feed old people, and those people were out in the community. That helped lower the crime rate. There was a time when DHS funded after-school programs and summer programs for children to get remediation. There was a time when DHS funded community services programs. You know what that did? That helped families and communities.
“But now, as we know, and I will just loosely quote Brett Favre and Phil Bryant – ‘it’s just a slush fund, and when can we get some more money from it? For concussion stuff. For folks to go to Malibu. Build volleyball courts and get paid for not speaking.’ And that’s just a part of what we know in the misuse of those dollars.”
VOTE AGAINST BILL
“Now, I’m going to vote against this bill to enact an agency that $100 million has been stolen (from) and we still don’t know the reason why,” Scott said. “I’m going to vote against this agency because we come up here talking about crime all over the state of Mississippi, and crime in particular here in Jackson. But when you look at the programs that DHS used to fund here in Jackson – the Y, the Boys and Girls Clubs, after school programs that were doing those good things – 15 and 20 years ago, Jackson didn’t have so much crime. So, we know that you’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time. You’ve got to have public spaces, but you’ve got to have human services. But you can’t have human services if the money has been stolen by the thugs, the hoodlums, and the reprobates, and if we don’t do something about it then you expect them to continue.
“I’m voting against this bill because we have failed to provide the correct oversight and to say to the citizens of the state of Mississippi, ‘Yeah, that what they did was wrong.’ Not one time have we said that. But I’m going to say it today with my vote.
“When I vote against this bill and I put in my 100 words in the agenda journal, it will be that I am voting ‘No’ against the Department of Human Services. Because they failed, and we have failed the poorest, the most vulnerable people in this state. And we sat here and we haven’t done one thing about it with their enacting legislation before us.”
Gunn called for a vote on the bill immediately after Scott closed out her comments last Thursday.
It passed with 76 yays to 33 nays. And the Republican majority again had their way in the House. The corrupt, decrepit Department of Human Services was given another year to continue its work against the people of the state of Mississippi.