/Fewer Mississippians received cash assistance in 2020, new reports show

Fewer Mississippians received cash assistance in 2020, new reports show

According to reports, Mississippi Department of Human Services has been inconsistent in its administration of the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. This is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation and a large embezzlement case. Even though the number of beneficiaries receiving public assistance is decreasing, federal accountability measures for the program are focused on poor families and not on non-profits or organizations that receive the most funds. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a federal caseload report in November that showed that between October 2019 and September 2020, 2,774 Mississippi families were receiving cash assistance on an average monthly basis. This amount reached less than 5% of the people living in poverty. A financial report released in October shows that Mississippi’s welfare spending has decreased by 25% or $34 million between 2018 and 2019, but poverty rates have not changed. Most of the spending was made under the direction of John Davis, former Human Services director. He was charged in February with embezzlement and has pleaded guilty. These financial reports are published one year after they occur. After agency contracts were significantly inflated in 2017 and 2018, the disgraced Initiative Families First for Mississippi was created. This initiative privatized the state’s welfare program by giving large upfront subgrants of money to two non-profits. The 2019 spending decrease occurred. Officials and policy organizations use these annual federal program report information to track trends in welfare spending. However, Mississippi’s federally reported financial data could be in jeopardy due to widespread fraud and misspend. State audits revealed that the agency didn’t keep a log of subgrant recipients or the use of funds by these organizations. Today, agency leaders claim they have increased controls to ensure money is properly spent. The current Human Services director Bob Anderson said that he would like Mississippi Today to see more eligibility and better benefits for the welfare program. Danny Blanton, spokesperson for the agency, said that they are looking at all options to help more people and provide more assistance. It will take time to do all of that and get everything done, agree on it. It is not something that you will see happen overnight.” The agency administers Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Through this program, the federal government sends Mississippi $86.5 million annually. Blanton boasted of success in other programs, such as the $530 million it issued through federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, $100m in Pandemic EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer), and $47 million in CARES Act funding that it used to support child care centers during the pandemic. Although Temporary Assistance for the Needy Families is often described as a “welfare check”, about 95 percent in Mississippi’s block grants are directed to other areas or given to private organizations that are supposed to help the poor. This figure is around 80 percent nationally. Mississippi Today reviewed internal records from the first seven months in federal fiscal 2020 after Davis’ departure and discovered that the agency had spent $4.2 million on assistance to the poor and subgrantees. As states approve fewer applicants, the number of Mississippi families that receive basic cash assistance has dropped over the past decade. Mississippi has the lowest monthly cash limit at $170 per family of three. In 2019, the state spent only 5.5 percent of its total TANF budget for direct assistance. The state has the option of transferring up to 30% of its TANF grants to Child Care Development Fund. This program provides vouchers for child care to parents to help them get to work. Advocates claim that the program only serves a fraction of the people who are eligible, due to financial shortfalls. Mississippi used to transfer several million each year to the program, but in 2018, and 2019, they chose not to. States can use TANF for funding a variety of projects as long as they can show that they are serving one of the following broad purposes: reducing dependency on needy parents by promoting work preparation, marriage and work; preventing unwedlock pregnancies; encouraging two-parent families. To ensure the money goes to the right people, the federal government requires that states provide data about the population receiving cash assistance. This includes information on the number of children and parents in each household, as well as their financial situation and percentage who met work requirements. The agency doesn’t require states to report how they spend the remainder — $24.3 billion nationally and $95 million in Mississippi — including what they buy, who they benefit from it, or the results of their people served. In August, Shad White, Mississippi State Auditor, wrote that the government’s lack of oversight allowed for an astonishing misuse of the TANF block grant.