The Mississippi welfare scandal has far-reaching repercussions that have extended past the state level. After a Congressional hearing on the issue earlier this year, House Republicans are now calling “for a federal investigation into the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [(TANF)] funding nationwide,” local news outlet WAPT16 reports.
What exactly happened in Mississippi? At the root of the issue, is that the federal government gave state officials “broad leeway to spend federal TANF dollars based on their philosophy about poverty and what constitutes helping people,” writes Mississippi Today.
“Over time, the purchases attached to those nebulous services morphed” into the state spending on “things like a 15-acre horse ranch for former USM running back Marcus Dupree, the construction of a volleyball stadium, lobbying expenses, sports camps for young athletes and star-studded high school rallies,” the news outlet continued.
But at the same time this was occurring, Mississippi slashed the number of families being served by TANF in half, going from almost 6,000 to 2,600, without any outcry from state leaders.
There are eight criminal defendants who have been charged in connection to the scandal; however, NFL player Brett Favre, who was embroiled in one aspect of the scandal, is not one of them.
The federal government then convened a July 12 congressional hearing to look into how the funds were used, which in turn prompted the House Republicans’ next steps.
In September, U.S. Representatives Jason Smith (R-MO) and Darin LaHood (R-IL) wrote a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodoro urging the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate “non-assistance spending” in the TANF program.
A nonpartisan and independent agency, the GAO is not required to investigate, but the agency does try to accommodate requests received from chairs of congressional committees. Smith is the House Committee on Ways and Means chair and LaHood heads up the Subcommittee on Work and Welfare.
In the letter, the two leaders referenced the corruption in Mississippi. “We are concerned that the Mississippi case is emblematic of a systemic problem,” continuing, “Taxpayers and Americans who need help deserve better.”
The congressmen also want the GAO to review “how states and the federal government conduct audits into TANF spending, collect demographic data on the populations using the program and look into why states sometimes transfer funds to other programs rather than spending directly.”
In addition, they’re also asking for a probe to be conducted, to ascertain if funds “are ‘ending the dependence of needy families on government benefits,’ reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies and encouraging the formation of two-parent families,” per the Associated Press.