Where’s GOP outrage on welfare scandal?
Republican lawmakers in Mississippi have been curiously disinterested — or at least seemingly so — in the massive welfare scandal initially exposed by another Republican, State Auditor Shad White.
How come? Why is it that only Democratic lawmakers were concerned enough to hold a hearing, as they did last week, to ask some questions about how welfare money has been spent — and misspent — by those in charge of doling it out?
Could it be it’s because mostly Republicans or their friends have been implicated in one of the worst cases of public corruption ever in Mississippi? Surely not.
But if Republican lawmakers take seriously their duty to hold the executive branch responsible for how it spends the public’s money, they’re doing a good job of hiding it.
Thank goodness someone at the Capitol is asking questions, even if it’s just one party, not only about how the fraud occurred but also whether the system that enabled it is badly designed.
John Davis, Nancy New and others implicated in the scandal may have had a crooked streak to begin with, but what certainly brought it out was the freedom Congress gave to the states on how they used the block grants sent to them for the purpose of combating poverty. Instead of direct cash assistance to the poor, Mississippi shifted its focus to sending millions of dollars to private entities, such as New’s Mississippi Community Education Center, on the theory that they would help the poor become self-sufficient through training and other non-cash support.
The state Department of Human Services, which administered the block grant money, became miserly with direct cash assistance, denying more than 90% of the applicants. At the same time, state law demanded more accountability from those who applied, including asking them about their drug use and testing them for it.
Meanwhile, those entities that received the bulk of the funding were free to disguise — sometimes with encouragement from state officials — how they spent their millions. A large chunk of the money got nowhere close to the poor, such as funding fitness boot camps attended by the well-to-do, bankrolling the development of an anti-concussion drug or helping to build a college volleyball arena. And no one was asking whether any of the seemingly legitimate anti-poverty programs were actually reducing any poverty.
The loose regulations allowed Mississippi to be creative in defining what it meant to help the needy. As a result, some of those found most “in need” also happened to be friends, relatives and political supporters of those in power.
It is alarming that, nearly three years into this scandal, Mississippi’s GOP lawmakers have made little effort to help get to the bottom of the malfeasance. One has to wonder, with billions allocated from Washington for pandemic relief and infrastructure projects, what else might be ripe for the squandering in this state?