/A one-man scheme Here’s how DHS spent since the former director left

A one-man scheme Here’s how DHS spent since the former director left

Even though John Davis, the former director, retired in July 2019, welfare money continued to flow to two non-profits that were accused of spending millions of dollars on services and items that did not help poor families. While the agency has frozen funds to questionable programs over the past year it spent relatively little Temporary Assistance For Needy Families dollars to direct financial assistance or workforce training to support parents in becoming self-sufficient. Danny Blanton, spokesperson for the agency, said that the agency spent millions on welfare to supplement its technical support and thousands of dollars on hotels for staff training for emergency assistance personnel. Policy advocates claim that while some of the money was used for meaningful purposes, such as after-school programs, high school dropout prevention, and services for disabled kids, it didn’t directly improve the living conditions of families who are already in poverty. Based on the 2018 American Community Survey, Mississippi’s poverty rate is just below 20 percent. This figure was based upon one-year estimates by the U.S Census Bureau. “Mississippi receives every year a TANF block grant to help reduce poverty. TANF is meant to help families in need,” stated Matt Williams, director for research at Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. He wrote a 2017 report about the program’s 20-year history. “In our state, poverty is concentrated in families headed by single mothers. It is crucial to use the limited federal funds to fund proven interventions such as child care assistance, education, or skills training that lead to higher wages. The state can’t be intentional about how it invests TANF. This is why it misses the opportunity.” According to a Mississippi Today spreadsheet, Mississippi Community Education Center was the top recipient of TANF in the first seven months of the current federal financial year. It received $4.9 Million. In February, Davis was arrested along with Nancy and Zach New from the nonprofit. This is what State Auditor ShadWhite calls the largest state-wide embezzlement operation in history. Next in line for TANF recipients was the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University. It received $1.7million under a contract to provide data analysis and technical support to the agency. The current Human Services Director Bob Anderson spoke with Mississippi Today to say that he knew NSPARC but hadn’t seen their results. In fact, the department has spent several million on NSPARC in the past few years. Anderson stated that the research center was supposed to help the department track the results of anti-poverty programs. However, Anderson claimed that he doesn’t have any numbers at DHS. Next came the Mississippi Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs (1.6 million), Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (1.5 million), Cambria Solutions (7791,000), the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (7766,000) and SPAHRS Interface (6662,000). The state’s electronic payroll system, Mississippi State University’s ACCESS program to students with disabilities (560,000), the Office of the State Auditor (3555,000) and the Mississippi Community College Board (3411,000) were the largest recipients. Every year, the State Auditor performs an audit of Human Services for the federal government called the Single Audit. This is paid for with a portion the state agency’s funding. Due to the amount of fraud in the TANF program, Mississippi had to pay more than usual. Mississippi Today found that the welfare agency had paid subgrantees, partners, and more than $18million. It also paid $4.2 million in direct assistance to Mississippians. This includes what appears to be transportation subsidies. The federal financial reports detailing Mississippi’s 2019 TANF block grants are not yet available. Reports for 2020 TANF block grants won’t be published until 2021. Each year, the state receives $86.5million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the TANF funds. It also often uses unused dollars from previous years. Davis allegedly gave TANF payments upfront to subgrantees he chose when he was the head of the department. The agency re-instituted a competitive bidding process after he left. According to the spreadsheet that the agency provided Mississippi Today, the agency had awarded $22 million to subgrantees out of its 2020 grant. However, they only had $4.3 million left by July. Blanton explained that subgrantees may not have been able conduct their programming because of COVID-19. They have not pulled down their funds. $30 million of the block grant was also transferred to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services. After nearly 30 years of service, Davis suddenly resigned in July. His employees had provided information regarding fraud to the former governor. Officials said that Phil Bryant turned the information over to Shad White, State Auditor. Bryant appointed Christopher Freeze (an ex-FBI agent) to replace Davis. Davis, five other FBI agents, and Bryant have pleaded guilty to the charges and are awaiting trial. After months of investigation, and after Human Services was visited by an auditor, the agency announced that it would award TANF subgrants for Mississippi Community Education Center (Mississippi) and Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (two now-insolvent nonprofits Davis had tapped to manage a statewide program called Families First for Mississippi). Officials finally listened to warnings and never signed the contracts. After December, the nonprofits did not receive any money. After an inquiry by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expiture Review into Families First for Mississippi in 2017, James Barber, the executive director, followed up with Human Services in 2019, just after Davis resigned to inquire about the large payments it made to nonprofits. Barber stated that Freeze had noticed that the agency wasn’t following traditional contract rules. Barber explained to Mississippi Today that Christopher Freeze replied that the department believed that these funds were not subject to formal contracts. “He (Freeze), said he didn’t agree with that, and that’s why they were being through the RFP procedure.” Correction: An earlier version of this story had a typo. It should have stated that Davis and five other defendants pleaded not guilty.