Major kudos to Anna Wolfe, the intrepid reporter for Mississippi Today following and narrating the still-unfolding story of massive misuse of federal TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) in Mississippi. Any Mississippi social worker not knowing the story should certainly bone up (you can do so here – https://mississippitoday.org/the-backchannel/). It affects our work whether or not we deal directly with the poor, and it profoundly affects the lives of many of Mississippi’s most vulnerable children and families in the most material way possible.
To be sure, government corruption is hardly new. Officials funneling funds to friends and favored projects (in this case facilitated by the extensive “discretion” afforded them by federally unsupervised block grants) is not new. Celebrity influence over decision-making, official peddling of influence for personal gain, and sketchy political campaign contributions – none are new. And contempt for the poor is, most definitely, far from new.
Hypocrisy is not new either, but the behavior of top government officials and their “friends” in the TANF scandal takes hypocrisy to a soaring new height. As a July 23rd New York Times article noted: “Mississippi politics has for years been dominated by Republicans who tend to be skeptical about the efficacy of the federal welfare system. Their concern about the potential misuse of federal funds by poor people has resulted in the enactment of strict safeguards to prevent fraud, and the state has been particularly careful about which poor people can get aid: An article from ThinkProgress, a progressive news site, found that in 2016, only 167 of the 11,700 Mississippi families who applied for a TANF payment were approved.” Mississippi politicians are “skeptical” of welfare efficacy, so their response is to steal the money intended for the state’s neediest and put it in their own pockets and the pockets of their friends, and to fund projects that have nothing to do with assisting the poor? Does the stink of hypocrisy rise any higher?