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Using Mississippi TANF scandal as a...

Using Mississippi TANF scandal as a backdrop, U.S. House Ways and Means members seek answers from HHS Secretary

By: Frank Corder - December 14, 2022

State Auditor White says the Congressional inquiry is an important move for accountability for this scandal.

U.S. House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on November 15th requesting information from HHS as to its oversight actions and efforts to promote accountability and safeguard funds in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in light of the scandal in Mississippi.

“Taxpayers across the country deserve clear answers about how social safety net programs operate to alleviate poverty and help people in need take steps on the path to self-sufficiency,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Unfortunately, rampant state misuse of TANF funds only harms our effort to help vulnerable families across the country.”

The letter was led by the Ranking Republican on the Committee Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas and was signed by the following U.S. Representatives:

  • Brad Wenstrup (Ohio)
  • Vern Buchanan (Florida)
  • Adrian Smith (Nebraska)
  • Mike Kelly (Pennsylvania)
  • Darin LaHood (Illinois)
  • Jodey Arrington (Texas)
  • Drew Ferguson (Georgia)
  • Lloyd Smucker (Pennsylvania)
  • Kevin Hern (Oklahoma)
  • Carol Miller (West Viginia)
  • Greg Murphy (North Carolina)
  • David Kustoff (Tennessee)

The Congressional signers note the ongoing Mississippi case where State Auditor Shad White identified nearly $77 million in misused funds that has resulted in multiple state and federal criminal and civil charges as well as other lawsuits aimed at recouping misspent funds from the players the Auditor’s office identified as being recipients or beneficiaries of the funds.

“The Mississippi case is emblematic of a systemic problem: TANF lacks necessary guardrails making it susceptible to fraud and abuse similar to the improper use of funds auditors uncovered in Mississippi,” the federal lawmakers wrote to Secretary Becerra. “Since its enactment in 1996, states have identified loopholes that allow redirection of TANF funds in ways that are loosely related to getting people out of poverty and many states have used federal TANF funds to fill state budget gaps.”

The Ways and Means Committee Republicans state that they have been fighting to get reforms to TANF since 2018, even as the program has been extended by Congress through a series of short-term extensions “without making substantive reforms.”

The lawmakers asked the HHS Secretary to respond to the following questions by December 9th “in order to understand the Department’s process for monitoring states, uncovering fraud, and overseeing TANF funds:

• Has HHS taken any corrective action or provided technical assistance to respond to the
Mississippi auditor’s 2020 report and allegations?

• What oversight tools does the Department have at its disposal to monitor use of funds in
the TANF program, particularly when fraud is identified?

• Has HHS imposed any penalties on states administering the TANF program in the last ten
years, including any penalties for failure to meet work participation rates?

• What action is HHS taking to ensure other states do not misuse TANF funds?

• Does the Department have processes in place to measure and report the amount of
improper payments in the TANF program?

• Has HHS conducted a systematic review to identify areas of fiscal, administrative, or
programmatic weaknesses in the TANF program? If so, what are those?

Y’all Politics sought comment from HHS to determine if responses were provided to the Committee members, but no correspondence has been received as of this printing of this article.

On Wednesday, State Auditor White took to Twitter to share this letter and stated, “This is an important move for accountability for this scandal.”

“The Biden Administration HHS has been asleep too long on this scandal,” White wrote. “Democrats should have long ago held hearings. The federal [government] needs to learn the lessons of this case and make reforms to welfare to make sure this never happens again.”

White was recently in D.C. visiting with members of Congress regarding this and other issues related to federal oversight and misspending. He spoke with Y’all Politics on Monday about his trip. You can hear what Auditor White has to say on the matter here.

You can read the full letter from the Ways and Means Republicans to HHS Secretary Becerra here.

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications such as the Daily Caller. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: