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Mississippi Left $47 Million in Aid To Poor Families Unspent, Prompting Calls For Reform

JACKSON, Miss. — The State of Mississippi is leaving millions of dollars on the table that could directly benefit families in deep poverty, witnesses emphasized repeatedly during a public hearing Thursday before the Mississippi House and Senate Democratic caucuses.

LaDonna Pavetti, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that the accumulated unspent Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds could be used to assist low-income families with children in any given year.

“The important takeaway here is that Mississippi has TANF funds available to provide extra cash,” Pavetti said. “The last report, which was for 2020, (showed) that Mississippi had $47 million in unspent TANF funds. Those are funds that are just sitting (where) Mississippi can draw on them any time it wants … and in 2020, Mississippi left $31 million unspent. It’s just sitting there.”

‘Off Welfare, Not Back To Work’

The TANF hearings come after years of revelations of how federal block grant TANF funds were diverted according to the whims of well-connected private individuals and businesses.

While TANF money went to the personal enrichment of former Department of Human Services Director John Davis and former nonprofit operator Nancy New and associates, low-income families found it nearly impossible to acquire TANF assistance that could meaningfully help with daily needs. In 2017, the year Davis and New funneled $5 million in TANF funds toward a volleyball facility that retired NFL star Brett Favre wanted at his alma mater, MDHS reported that it had denied TANF funds to nearly 99% of applicants.

The unspent funds, advocates at the hearing explained, are paired with a benefits structure that is historically low and fails to address even basic needs at the current cost of living.

“Mississippi just raised their benefit. It’s now $260 (a month) for a family of three. They can barely afford the basics. If you have a child, you need diapers, you need laundry detergent, you need soap, you need toothpaste. I don’t know where the money comes from for the rent with $260, because there’s so many other things that the money needs to pay

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