“We now have the opportunity to generationally move people to self-sufficiency, livable wages, and success the Mississippi Department of Human Services defines it,” stated John Davis, Director of Mississippi Department of Human Services, who is also the new chair of Statewide Longitudinal Data System board. The longitudinal data system, now in its fifth year of operation, already shows that people largely stay in poverty after they leave welfare programs. Mississippi Today data also shows that the state’s poverty rates were at an all-time high of 24.2 percent in the decade prior to 2012, when Gov. Phil Bryant dramatically reduced the state’s public assistance recipients. Phil Bryant’s administration. The poverty rate is now just below 20 percent, which is still the highest in the country. Nearly all states have a Statewide Longitudinal Data System (called “LifeTracks” Mississippi). This system connects residents’ confidential data from multiple state agencies to allow them to track the results of state services over time. The board was formed in 2013 and moved the data system to Mississippi State University’s National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center (also known as NSPARC). According to LifeTracks, the board did not meet its bylaws’ requirement of meeting three times per year. It met only twice in 2015, twice again in 2016, and once more in 2017. The board also failed to meet in 2018. The infrequent meetings of the federal Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program were criticized by the state. Since 2009, the state has received nearly $20 million through this program. The May 2 meeting saw board members stress that the lack of official meetings over the past few years does NOT indicate a lack in governance over the data system. Mississippi Today asked for specific data regarding anti-poverty programs in November. The board denied access to the data. After the meeting, Davis stated to Mississippi Today that he wanted exactly what they want. As an agency head, it’s no different than sitting back and saying, “Oh, I don’t want to help those people.” My job is to help people. I don’t get paid more to help people. Data in LifeTracks is sent to “stakeholders” or public officials according to state statute. They receive reports created by NSPARC and reviewed by a committee composed of experts appointed by the LifeTracks board. Even though news organizations are not considered “stakeholders”, other private entities such as Delta Health Alliance or Mississippi Energy Institute have been able access the information, the board has ruled that they do not qualify. “John Q. “John Q. LifeTracks does not release the reports after the analysis is complete. Instead, these reports are considered to be in the possession of the request agency. They must decide if they are public records. According to the report from the site visit, federal grantors found that there was some confusion among the contributing partners regarding who has the data and how it works. NSPARC was to receive $400,000 in state funds to manage LifeTracks. However, the education appropriation bills passed by each chamber. At the end of 2019, lawmakers snatched all funding from the legislation. NSPARC has accepted to manage LifeTracks in its final year of contract, despite the decrease in funding. In the six-year period, the department of human services requested three reports from LifeTracks. One was about children who have received child care assistance. The second was about the outcomes for residents who have left the cash assistance program Temporary Aid for Needy Families. The final report revealed that only half of those who left the TANF program in 2013 to 2017 were employed within one calendar year, and only 45 percent within five years. On average they earned $12,296 in the first year and $15.273 over five years. Both their salaries are below the poverty line for a single parent who is the main population that the program serves. People who left the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, also known as food stamps, did slightly better. 71% were employed within a year, and 62% had a job five-years later. The average income of the recipients was $18,857 the first year and $21,696 the fifth year. This is below the living wage that anyone can earn and would leave some families in poverty. Although the report didn’t result in any policy or process changes, it provided an indicator for officials to gauge the progress of the state’s latest plan to combat poverty, called gen+ (generation Plus). It is called “gen+” as it seeks to connect resources and address all barriers to success. Davis stated that he would like to analyze the data and determine if the “individuals that we’re serving” are truly being served. “Are they subjugating them to stay on the programs, because we can’t provide viable jobs for them? Davis asked, “Or are they actually helping them find livable wage?” Davis added that he keeps saying “livable wages”, but it’s subjective as some people can afford $20,000 while others can only afford $100 (,000).” When you consider local costs, a living wage is the minimum amount someone needs to live comfortably. A living wage calculator was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It shows that a Jackson, Miss. living wage is $11.55 per hour for a single person and $21.80 for a single mother with one child. $24.48 for a single mother with two children. Davis stated that LifeTracks can help him identify ways his agency can break the poverty cycle in Mississippi. Although administering assistance to needy Mississippians and determining eligibility is one of the main functions of human services, the agency has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of families served by TANF. This includes the work support portion of the program. In 1996, welfare reform reduced Mississippi’s traditional basic assistance recipients by more than two-thirds. The number dropped from over 52,000 to around 15,000 in just five years. After the 2000s, the rolls began to rise and then dropped to about 11,500 families between 2008-2012. The rolls started to fall again after Bryant was elected in 2012. It now serves less than 4500 families. This assistance is available to less than 4 percent children in poverty throughout the state. The department of human services has a success story on its gen+ website about Andrea, a single mother and her two children. Andrea was only working part-time, and she went to school late at night. She sought assistance from the Hinds County DHS Office. She began receiving public assistance, and she enrolled in the appropriate work programs. According to the website, she was a clerk at MDHS and even promoted to senior typer. The senior position is $8.90 per hour and starts at $18,550. This is well below the federal poverty level for a single mother of two children. According to the Mississippi State Personnel Board records, almost 1,500 state employees are employed in positions with starting salaries below $20,000 According to the website, she said that “I am so thankful for the opportunities MDHS has given me and the programs they have offered.” Jacob Black, human services’ program director, stated that evaluating the results of gen+ and Mississippi’s other programs to lift people out poverty is still a work in process. The state is still trying to find out how to collect outcome data from its many private non-profit partners, who it grants but are not part of the LifeTracks program. The agency is faced with the challenge of connecting data from different sources in possibly incompatible formats. Families First for Mississippi is the primary third-party administrator for the gen+ program. It compiles its annual reports with many output measures, including how many people completed and received their programs. These include parenting, life skills, job readiness, and high school diploma courses. It doesn’t say if its efforts led to people getting a job or earning a living wage. Family Resource Center of Northeast Mississippi, Mississippi Community Education Center and Mississippi Family First received $27.6 millions, which is more than 25 percent of the annual Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars. According to a Mississippi Today list of sub grants costs, the agency gave Mississippi Today. Black stated that the organization is currently implementing a system to track the progress of clients. This process began in September. Mimmo Parisi (ex-director of NSPARC), the agency that analyzes Families First data, said in November that although the organization didn’t have a system for collecting the data, they were “working towards it.” Families First can’t require their clients to submit personal information. Parisi stated that they are “scrambling” because they serve so many people, but don’t know how they can collect data. Parisi said that they are trying to figure out a way to prove the effectiveness of their programs. Parisi added that it takes five years for such programs to be effective and it is not fair to expect Families First will have this data so quickly. He said that they were doing everything possible to gather the data.