Everyone has read about the scandal involving the misuse of welfare funds administered by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS). Money that was intended for poor families was spent on former football players and pro wrestlers, a new volleyball court, and countless other wasteful contracts and projects. State Auditor Shad White has called it the biggest public corruption scandal in Mississippi history.
Law enforcement and prosecutors are getting to the bottom of all the illegal activity. Guilty pleas have already been entered and more may be coming. Those responsible must held accountable.
There is, however, a second problem raised by the high profile welfare scandal: The fact that most of the federal money sent to Mississippi for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was spent legally but still wasted and spent without regard for families or results.
The Democratic Caucus of the State Senate (of which I am Vice Chairman) and the Democratic Caucus of the State House of Representatives recently held a public hearing on this topic and the need to reform how the Department of Human Services (DHS) administers TANF funds. We learned:
• The Department does not track whether welfare programs meet goal of lifting people from poverty or measure results of the programs they fund.
• There are 190,000 MS children in poverty. There are 2,113 families receiving TANF.
• About 90% of MS applicants for TANF are rejected.
• The monthly TANF benefit is $260 a month. MS uses only about 5% of its federal TANF funds on assistance for poor families.
• The state will likely be forced to pay back between $75-$95 million in improper spending with additional penalties.
There are two parts to the welfare scandal. One is the illegal activity. The harder work is going to be to fix the program going forward. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. We must make changes.
I, along with my Democratic colleagues, will be presenting a thorough plan to change the way TANF works when the Legislature convenes in January. We will put helping families meet basic living expenses and child care first. More details soon.
Thank you again for the opportunity to work for Hinds County in the State Senate. Please let me know if I can help you or your family. You can contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by calling my office at the Capitol (601-359-3221). I am also on Facebook and Twitter (@sendavidblount).