By Christopher Young,
On Tuesday, the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses held a hearing at the Capitol relating to Mississippi’s TANF program. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program provides states and territories with flexibility in operating programs designed to help low-income families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency.
According to the Office of Administration for Children and Families, states use TANF to fund monthly cash assistance payments to low-income families with children, as well as a wide range of services. But here in Mississippi, the white power structure has taken “wide range of services” to a whole new level. To them, this federal funding intended for the poorest among us, is their personal slush fund.
The sinful level of contempt for poor people in Mississippi is not breaking news. A minimum of 34% of African American, 31% American Indian, 27% Hispanic, 13% Asian, and 13% white live below the poverty threshold in Mississippi, according to www.welfareinfo.org. Resistance to any form of African-American advancement in this state has always been the norm and continues today for the world to see, yet it’s not exclusively black disenfranchisement in The Hospitality State.
The TANF hearing was led by state Senator Derrick T. Simmons, Senate Minority Leader; and Robert L. Johnson III, House Minority Leader. Speakers included Robert Anderson; executive director of Mississippi Department of Human Services, Elizabeth Lower-Basch; deputy director of Policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy, Carol Burnett; executive director of Mississippi Low-Income Initiative, Brandy Nichols; Springboard to Opportunities; mother, Deloris Suel, Childcare Center owner and president of the Child Care Directors Network Alliance; and Reverend Reginald Buckley; president of General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi Inc.
Carol Burnett chocked back tears as she told lawmakers that “Mississippi has received $100 million in TANF funds twenty-six years in a row and the fact that the state still had the highest poverty rate in the nation is downright sinful.”
Robert Anderson admitted to lawmakers the agency does not track outcomes for millions in funds given to sub-grantees for workforce development, per WAPT.
Having supervised training programs for the City of Norfolk Virginia for many years, Anderson’s assertion defies logic. We worked closely with workforce development, specialized treatment providers, daycare providers and others to comprehensively serve the needs of TANF and Medicaid recipients. The accountability required was intense. Monthly reporting in significant detail – the agency culture was infused with the need to assure accountability because these were federal TANF dollars. When a department of a city agency operates in that manner routinely, it’s hard to grasp what Anderson is saying about a large state agency like MDHS.
Many people have said that the federal government has lax accountability requirements for these funds. Perhaps if your intent is to deceive, you find the loopholes, but reporting requirements do exist. Administration for Children and Families Form 196R Financial Report includes 30 different line items of annual reporting for all state recipients of TANF Funds and can be viewed at the following website: acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ofa/ACF_196R_form_TANF_FINAL_May_2022.pdf.
This is just one of at least four reports that are required either quarterly or annually. In the interest of transparency, now is the time for Anderson to publish all of Mississippi’s TANF reporting to the federal government for the last twenty-five years.
At a press conference following the TANF Hearing, placards displayed data relating to the TANF scandal and a bit of a timeline starting in 2016. The flowing items jumped out: in 2016 there were 11,700 Mississippians who applied for TANF cash assistance from MDHS and of those, 167 were approved, or 1.5%. In 2019, for every 100 families in poverty, 4 received cash assistance or 4%. In 2021, 9 out of 10 who applied for cash assistance were rejected. Cash assistance in Mississippi is capped at $260 for a family of three.
This hearing was the very first despite the TANF scandal breaking over two and a half years ago. We can only hope that hearings continue, and that Republican legislators can reach deep within themselves and actively engage in the process to improve transparency and accountability of all funding, especially federal funding which gives Mississippi 44% of its annual revenue.