Just last month, the Mississippi state auditor announced that the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and five others had been charged with fraudulent expenditures of millions of public dollars intended for poverty programs – reportedly the largest public embezzlement case in Mississippi in decades.
Is there a worse time, then, for the Mississippi legislature to consider a new crackdown on low-income recipient welfare fraud? Perhaps not, but no matter. Senate Bill 2257, already passed by both the Senate and the Mississippi House (in a revised form), authorizes the state auditor to examine the tax returns of people enrolled in public assistance programs, including Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), and SNAP (food stamps), in order to verify income eligibility. While further debate on the proposed legislation is possible, a single version is expected to pass.
Republican Rep. Joey Hood defended the bill, pointing to pressure from federal authorities on states to set up income-verification processes. He’s right, suggesting that Democratic Rep. Chris Bell only got it half right when he questioned “What does the state of Mississippi have against poor people?” It’s not just Mississippi that’s hostile to the poor; it’s the current administration in Washington as well.
The answer to the question is the same at both levels, in both Jackson and Washington, D.C. – The poor serve as a convenient and powerless scapegoat that can distract attention from the gross criminal corruption of public officials.