Dunagin: Poor folks usually get the shaft

By CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,

I doubt there is anyone in Mississippi living in a million dollar house with a swimming pool drawing welfare or Medicaid unless that person is a live-in servant.

But state Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, seems to think so, or at least that’s what her rhetoric implies.

“It's not fair nor is it right to a taxpayer of the state of Mississippi if there is one person that should not be getting these taxpayer benefits ... that can build a million-dollar house with a swimming pool at the same time that the taxpayers are paying for their children's medical care,” Hill was quoted in the Clarion Ledger.

Hill was commenting on current legislation that is more than likely to become law allowing the state auditor to examine tax returns of individuals who receive benefits like Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Clearly the majority of state senators don’t want any marginally poor folks in Mississippi to get anything that shouldn’t be coming to them — especially those who might happen to sneak in a job and aren’t sly enough to keep it off a tax return;  if they file a tax return at all, which few of them are required to do.

Catch those welfare cheaters and cut off the benefits.

Never mind that the state a long time ago should have expanded Medicaid to cover the poor who work at minimum pay; or that Mississippi has repeatedly turned down federal funds available to help the poor in one of the poorest states in the nation.

I have no idea how many people are abusing the system. I’m sure there are some.

My guess, though, is that what the welfare recipients are ripping off pales in comparison to the millions a few individuals who were hired to administer some of those programs  are now accused of stealing.

It’s ironic that this legislation — needed or not — coincides with the news that six people have been indicted on charges of stealing $4.15  million that should have been going to the folks Sen. Hill and colleagues are worried may be cheating.

The alleged embezzlement does not include $2.1 million that suspiciously went to a religious and wrestling nonprofit run by former professional wrestler Ted “The Million Dollar Man” DiBiase Sr.

DiBiase, who turned from wrestling to preaching, formed a nonprofit called Heart of David Ministries.

His  son, Brett DiBiase, was hired as deputy administrator at the Mississippi Department of Human Services in early 2017.

Both Brett DiBiase and John Davis, the former director who hired him, were indicted as part of an alleged embezzlement scheme.

Others accused in the scheme include  Dr. Nancy New and her son, Zach, who operate a nonprofit community education center.

It is alleged by State Auditor Shad White that Brett DiBiase, also a former pro wrestler,   was paid for teaching classes on drug awareness while he  was actually staying at a drug rehabilitation facility  in Malibu.

White says Davis told the News to pay for DiBiase's rehab treatment using public money from the TANF program which is meant to aid low-income families with children under 18 years old. But after DHS sent TANF money to the News' Mississippi Community Education Center, the News allegedly submitted documents back to the state saying they were paying DiBiase “for conducting training classes that never, in fact, took place.”

The current tax return legislation isn’t the first time lawmakers have singled out TANF recipients for scrutiny.

A few years back they imposed drug testing on recipients, although few were shown to be using drugs and the tests themselves probably cost more than what was saved.

Maybe now, the Legislature, in its wisdom, will impose drug testing on those who are hired to dole out the money, including the contractors. But don’t count on it.

Also don’t count on the majority taking the advice of State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson who said: “My main concern is that 98 percent of people that applied for TANF benefits were denied while only 2 percent were approved.

Why are we not auditing the 98 percent who were rejected to ensure that they were denied with good reason?.”

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