/Sensing corruption at welfare agency, she took matters into her own hands

Sensing corruption at welfare agency, she took matters into her own hands

Ellis was only informed about the new cash infusion by the Daily Journal in Tupelo. Although she didn’t know exactly where the money came from, Ellis had a suspicion that MDHS might have diverted funds from the Child Care Development Fund. This fund is supposed to provide vouchers for child care centers like hers that had stopped receiving them. Two years later, the general public would learn that much of this nonprofit’s operation was an alleged covering up for a welfare scandal that took place during the then-Gov. Phil Bryant was the administrator. Family Resource Center will be responsible for paying $15 million to the state, plus interest. However, no one has been charged with a crime. Nancy New, the founder of a second nonprofit that ran Families First, has pleaded guilty to multiple charges of embezzlement and bribery. She could face hundreds of years imprisonment. According to a state audit, most of the money that was misappropriated came from a federal block grant called Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), also known as “welfare”. However, the Families First program received some child care funds. Ellis believes that the newspaper article that raised suspicions was still true. It was written by an employee of the Family Resource Center who “did not know there were any problems and didn’t know what to say.” Ellis instinctively knew that the money was being used to fund a program without transparency or evidence that it was actually helping people living in poverty. I knew that this was too much money to subgrantees and there is more to the story. It has to. Ellis told Mississippi Today recently that this is a lot money. “The girl reported that they were building new facilities, new facilities to Families First, one per two counties. Mississippi now has eighty-something counties. There are at most 40 facilities. You also know that grant money cannot be used to create personal wealth. These facilities were titled Nancy New. It was breathtaking.” Ellis thought of a way to use her newfound knowledge. Ellis took to her blog. Ellis posted on her website, which she manages on behalf of a group of Delta child care providers, that “approximately one-half of all children being served” by the Child Care Development Fund. “… “Delusions of grandeur and bullying, inefficiency, and state-issued psychobabble rule” agency leaders recently admitted that MDHS programs would likely be affected by budget cuts. Ellis said in a sarcastic tone, “Not so for Family Resource Center!” “Wow! “Wow! The development fund can be used by states to issue child care certificates to low income parents to allow them to go to work or improve the quality of day care centers. Ellis, who founded The Learning Tree in Greenwood, in 1986, relies upon the voucher program for her business. Without it, many families she serves would not be able to afford child care. In 2017, the department reported that there was a waiting list of more than 21,000 voucher-eligible children. The state’s participation rate in the workforce fell to 55% after Mississippi stopped issuing vouchers. Ellis stated to Mississippi Today that critics of the working poor and those who criticize recipients of public assistance need to understand that these were working parents. They were not content to sit back and relax. They were actually working. They couldn’t work because they had lost their funding. There’s a double-standard in there somewhere, isn’t it? Ellis wrote on her blog about the “financial win” of Families First. Bryant’s early childhood education chief Laurie Smith and John Davis, the welfare director, reached out to Ellis. They wanted to find out what it would take for her not to write about them. Smith sent Ellis a text on March 12, 2018, asking if she would be available for lunch meetings. Ellis replied that she knew from the immediate reactions from John’s office as well as Laurie that something was up with the Families First post. Smith was the director for the state-appointed State Early Childhood Advisory Council. Smith was contacted by a member of the council to explain Ellis’ blog post. Smith replied, “None” of the above is true. Ellis referred to her blog and said that they knew more was coming. “I couldn’t put all the pieces together but I had enough info to know something was very sinister and wrong.” Ellis and Davis met less than two weeks later at Wellington’s Buffet, a Hilton hotel near Jackson. “Honestly, I didn’t get past salad. Ellis stated that Ellis had many things to say. My posts continued to state, “No new enrollment.” She continued, “No new certificates for enrollment.” They knew my goal was to get that funding released. “We were also calling for forensic audits of the CCDF between 2014 and 2018. It hasn’t been done yet… Where has the money gone for five years? “We still don’t have the answers.” Ellis stated that Smith was quiet at lunch and Davis was as friendly as ever. Ellis replied, “He asked me what I could do to alleviate my concern about the Child Care Development Fund.” “And I replied, “You can do the same for me as you do for all low-income child care providers in Mississippi. Release this funding now. They don’t have much time. Ellis was asked how long it would take to issue the vouchers and if she would still blog. Ellis replied that it would take two weeks. The deadline was missed, but the department started to reduce the wait list three weeks later and parents who were working received notification that they had been approved for the benefit. “I knew that we needed new enrollment to ensure the industry’s survival. We’re still reeling from that. Ellis stated that the only thing that saved the child care industry as a whole was a deadly pandemic. The stabilization grants and relief funding are the reason. That kind of funding allows us to do the things we need for child care.” Low-income parents face still many obstacles in getting the certificate. Ellis says that the agency doesn’t block enrollment. Ellis stated that there are many honest and good people working at DECCD (Division of Early Childhood Care and Development). “But the pandemic showed us that the policies remain punitive.