Mission breach

One of the mantras of conservatives has been that federal aid should be given to the states in block grants, since they know better than the feds how to tackle the problems the money is supposed to address.

A recent report on how Mississippi uses welfare funding, though, casts serious doubts on whether states can be trusted to spend the money as intended when the regulations from Washington are relaxed.

According to Mississippi Today, in 2017, Mississippi had $108 million budgeted to spend in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, with Washington providing about 80 percent of the funding.

That year, Mississippi used almost $19 million of the budget to provide college scholarships, more than twice as much as it gave out in direct cash assistance to poor families. Cash assistance was the major way welfare was handled before the block grant approach was created in 1996, when Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican majorities in Congress hammered out a major welfare overhaul.

College scholarships are a fine way to try to lift the children of the poor out of poverty. Problem is, Mississippi has defined the eligibility level for the scholarships so high — up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level ($90,125 for a four-person household) — that many of the recipients come from families that are anything but poor. 

TANF was designed to help the poor aspire to the middle class. It wasn’t designed to help those who have already achieved that income status.

The state has reshaped the program at least partially in a way that welfare reformers did not intend.


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