JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s scandal-ridden welfare program turns down most applicants for monetary assistance, and it has failed to track whether the programs are reaching their goal of lifting people out of poverty in one of the country’s poorest states, lawmakers were told on Tuesday.
Robert G. “Bob” Anderson said that when he became director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services in March 2020, he discovered that the agency had “output figures” to track spending.
“But we didn’t have much information about the results,” Anderson said. “We didn’t track the results like an agency.”
Responding to questions from Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, Anderson said Human Services is looking at data to determine if programs are effective, but he didn’t say when a program will be in place to track results.
Anderson spoke at the State Capitol at a hearing held by the Democratic caucuses of the state house and Senate.
Democratic leaders said they were meeting because the Republicans, who control the two chambers, have not held hearings over a multimillion-dollar abuse scandal that has entangled several prominent figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre.
“We can’t help but recognize that Mississippi has two hands — one hand that actually receives help from the poor and another hand that actually gives it to the rich,” said Greenville Senator Derrick Simmons. “And Mississippi needs to do better.”
Anderson said about 90% of people who apply for temporary assistance for needy families in Mississippi do not receive it, either because their application is denied or because they reject their application. He said Human Services is considering using “navigators” to help job applicants.
Jackson’s Brandy Nichols told lawmakers she has four children: 8-year-old, 5-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. She has held various jobs including as a cashier and housekeeper.
She said she never expected to need government support, but TANF helped her pay for groceries, cleaning supplies, clothing and unexpected expenses such as emergency car repairs. She said she has already used the five-year limit on payments under the program.
“I can no longer receive TANF,” Nichols said. “But my children’s most expensive years are coming.”
Anderson is a former assistant US attorney, and Republican Governor Tate Reeves nominated him to lead Human Services just weeks after one of the agency’s former directors, John Davis, was arrested on charges of misconduct. spending millions of dollars intended to benefit some of the poorest people in the United States.
Davis was elected by Reeves’ predecessor, Republican government Phil Bryant. Davis recently pleaded guilty to state and federal charges related to some of the mis-spending.
As director of Human Services, Davis had direct control over federal funds that prosecutors said were being misused for expenses such as drug rehabilitation for a former professional wrestler and first-class airline tickets for Davis.
Court documents also show that under Davis, $5 million from TANF was spent on a volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi — a project Favre promoted at the school, where his daughter practiced the sport.
Favre has repaid $1.1 million he received in speaking fees to help pay for the volleyball facility. The money came from the Mississippi Community Education Center, a nonprofit that issued TANF dollars with approval from Human Services. State auditor Shad White said Favre still owes $228,000 in interest.
Favre is not facing criminal charges, but is one of 38 defendants in a civil lawsuit seeking to recover misappropriated benefits. Favre, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said last week that he ” wrongly smeared in the media” in coverage of social spending.
Johnson said the Mississippi legislature needs to remove hurdles for welfare applicants, including one: drug screening requirement in constitutional law. Adults applying for TANF must complete a drug use questionnaire. If the answers indicate that there is a “reasonable chance” of substance use disorder, the applicant must undergo a drug test.
The Center for Law and Social Policyof CLASP, a Washington-based nonprofit that seeks to reduce poverty, said Mississippi received 11,407 TANF applications in 2017. After the questionnaire, 464 applicants were given drug tests, and six of those tests found drug use.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, deputy director of policy for CLASP, told lawmakers Tuesday that another Washington-based advocacy group, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, found that for every 100 families with children living in poverty in Mississippi, 71 families received cash assistance. through a welfare program in 1979. In 1995-96 aid went to 39 families per 100 living in poverty. By 2019-20, Mississippi’s aid rate had fallen to four families per 100 living in poverty — last tied in the US
“The proportion of people getting cash assistance compared to the great need is just astounding,” Lower-Basch said.
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