The True Measure
Bill Mefford

Bill Mefford

Executive Director

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I am a sports fan so the first time I heard about what has been investigated in Mississippi since 2020 in regards to the stolen welfare funds was when it involved former NFL quarterback and Mississippi native, Brett Favre. A CNN article from a couple of days ago gives greater context to what is an absolute mess in Mississippi, but also what is hardly surprising.

The money that was stolen came from the federal program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF),  which is intended to help needy families “care for their own children, promote job readiness, encourage marriage and two-parent families, and prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” OK, so why the heck is the federal government encouraging 2-parent families for poor people? Well, you can thank Bill Clinton and Newt Gingerich for the 1996 overhaul of welfare in which they determined that too much money was being wasted by lazy poor people who were doing nothing but living in luxury off the largesse of their welfare funds.

Yes, I am being sarcastic, but I do think it is worth it to take note that government contractors that receive billions in defense and border security contracts are free to live in single parent families. Apparently, we are not worried about their morality. And, lest we forget,  if you want the poor to listen to family advice, then of course that should come from the 90s paragons of family virtues: Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

Can you hear my eyes roll?

And this is before we even get to the mess in Mississippi. In receiving the block grants of federal funds, the money was spent on everything except needy families. Charges have been filed against 6 people connected with a couple of non-profit organizations who misspent millions. But do not be fooled; it takes more than 6 people to steal tens of millions of dollars.

While Favre has not been charged and has refunded the $1 million in TANF money he was paid (and he states he had no idea he was paid with TANF funds), we shouldn’t forget that he was paid a million dollars for speaking fees and promotional ads which never occurred. Hey, I thought only poor people were lazy. Of course, Favre is part of a two-parent family so I guess that was money well-spent.

OK, I am still being sarcastic, but while millions of TANF funds were stolen in 2020, I can only wonder what did the needy families in Mississippi do? I honestly could not find any articles discussing those realities. How many meals did families have to miss? How many couches did families have to crash on because they did not have enough money for rent? How many medicines could not be bought?

I think it is a good time to remember that Mississippi is the state with the highest percentage of its citizens in poverty so there is indeed a lot of need. According to the US News and World Report, Mississippi is ranked last in health care, 43rd in education, 48th in infrastructure, and 49th in the economy. However, Mississippi, behind West Virginia, is the second most churched state in the country.

Of course, this complete and reckless disregard for genuinely needy families is indicative of a culture of indifference and objectification of the poor that we have carefully and generationally cultivated in the United States. Just like the welfare overhaul in 1996, we have predetermined that those who are in need of help are immoral or lacking in something and that is why we spend so much time denigrating poor people and why we spend so much money in campaign ads calling the little we do spend “reckless spending.” Therefore, diverting funds from them – stealing from them – only makes news when it involves the names of our favorite sports heroes. It’s just another day in the life of being poor in America.

Mississippi should obviously be ashamed for this treatment of the poor, but we all bear guilt for how the poor are continually dehumanized and defrauded by our leaders and ourselves. I would do well to listen to Gandhi more than Favre when he said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” I am afraid of what that true measure is today.

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