Mississippi's Welfare Kings and Queens
For decades, Republicans have been blaming poor women for taking more than their fair share. But in one state, it's the politicians who are making out like bandits
I am betting I don’t have a lot of readers in Mississippi (although I would love it if I did)—and no, this isn’t going to make a red state go blue. But it does help us unravel bogus corruption charges that always target the poor. If you know someone who would be interested, please:
Mississippi has a welfare fraud problem—but it isn’t recipients enrolled in these programs who are cheating. It’s Republican officials.
Portrayed for decades as something between a federal no-work luxury living stipend and a government psyops program that does untold generational damage, the American welfare system is said by its critics to be mired in corruption. In reality, welfare dollars aren’t enough to live on, as Christopher Jencks pointed out at The American Prospect in 2020, and women only “turn to welfare because they cannot get jobs that pay any better than welfare.” Historically, the American South has been most resistant to implementing welfare policies that match the meager payments in other states as part of a deliberate strategy to keep Black people poor. Why? Because it was the closest white politicians could come to replicating the American slavery system that ended with the civil war.
But hostility to welfare has always extended well beyond the South. For example, in 1976, California Governor Ronald Reagan hammered mercilessly on the wastefulness of welfare programs as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in New Hampshire. Bragging that he had “lopped” 400,000 women off the California rolls (the actual number was a little more than half of that), at nearly every stop, the New York Times reported, Reagan told this story:
“There's a woman in Chicago,” the Republican candidate said recently to an audience in Gilford, N.H., during his freeswinging attack on welfare abuses. “She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands.” He added:
“And she's collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax‐free cash income alone is over $150,000.”
Reagan often inflated this number to a million dollars as the campaign wore on. This woman, whose name was Linda Taylor, was a “welfare queen,” Reagan told the crowd, and he contrasted her alleged theft of public dollars with the white New Hampshire voters in his audience, “`hard-working people’ who pay their bills and put up with high taxes.”
As it turns out, Linda Taylor existed, uncovered by the Chicago Tribune in 1974. But she wasn’t your ordinary welfare mom: she wasn’t a mother at all, and welfare fraud (her take, in two states, was estimated at between $8,000 and $40,000) was only one of her activities. Her main bop was insurance fraud, but she also allegedly profited from kidnapping, robbery, marrying wealthy men to fleece them, and other felony crimes.
In other words, she wasn’t a welfare mother—she was a real criminal who committed welfare fraud. And so, as it turns out, is a Mississippi official currently being investigated for steering taxpayer dollars to friends. At the center of this growing scandal is John Davis, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who was indicted this week by a Hinds County Grand Jury of conspiring with others to defraud the public.
Among the developments in a case first opened in 2020 is evidence that $160,000 in Mississippi welfare funds went to a professional wrestler in rehab:
In the indictment unsealed Monday, prosecutors allege Davis increased federal grants to Nancy New’s nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center in exchange for payments to the luxury rehab facility where his friend and retired professional wrestler Brett DiBiase received treatment in 2019. For more than two years, Davis has faced five counts ranging from conspiracy, embezzlement and fraud. He now faces 20 counts, which includes nine new counts of bribery.
Prosecutors say the rehab payments — $40,000 per month for four months — personally benefitted Davis because he had promised to pay the rehab bill himself, so, in effect, the nonprofit extinguished his debts. Davis, who pleaded not guilty to the new charges on April 8, now technically faces almost 150 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts.
Text messages between Davis and New, obtained by Mississippi Today and reprinted here as they were written, shed light on how Davis directed New to pay for DiBiase’s rehab. Prosecutors say New and her son Zach New used grant money to make the payments.
Davis had allegedly agreed to pay the rehab bill—at a luxury facility in Malibu—out of his own pocket. Davis and the News are set to go to trial on September 26 on charges that could result in sentences of hundreds of years.
But there’s more! Nancy New was also a significant contributor to former Governor Phil Bryant and arranged for his troubled great-nephew to be admitted to an exclusive school. In return, Bryant allegedly steered millions of dollars worth of state welfare contracts to the News in what may be, according to Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe, the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history. Later, after a series of encounters with the law and a month in jail, Bryant’s nephew ended up on the welfare rolls under a state program called Families First—administered by Nancy New.
The NAACP (which has requested a federal investigation) says that fraud and mismanagement between 2017 and 2019 may have cost the poor of Mississippi $94 million.
The Mississippi case is outrageous, but it points to an important truth. The rates of welfare fraud perpetrated by recipients—an idea that has remained powerful in American politics since Reagan first lied about it in 1976—are petty. In fact, more often than not, overpayment arises from miscalculations made by welfare bureaucrats and telephone scams, and fraud perpetrated by professionals. not recipients gaming the system.
But the rate of welfare fraud by professional scamsters, including the political class and their allies, is relatively high. So if you are looking for welfare queens and kings? Start at the statehouse, not the homes of the poor.
Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press explains Netflix’s stock market tumble. Although the streaming company has gained 2.5 million subscribers, it suffered a net loss of 200,000 in the last quarter, and another 700,000 lost when the company pulled out of Russia. It expects to lose another 2 million subscribers in the current quarter. Why? Households cutting back and crackdowns on password sharing are one cause, as is an increase in Netflix monthly fees. This last made some of us feel gouged, since most good television, even from major networks like NBC, which used to be free or part of a cable package, now require the purchase of individual streaming services. (April 20, 2022)
Yesterday, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to kick a corporation out of politics: you can see it here on The Florida Channel. De Santis asked his legislature to repeal the Disney company’s self-governing status, which has allowed Mickey and Minnie to evade a host of government regulations since 1967. But Disney, a historically conservative company, has now come out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a form of corporate speech that the corporate-funded DeSantis clearly believes should not be free. (April 19, 2022)
How does a three-day weekend strike you? California legislators are proposing a new labor standard that would have workers on the job for only 32 hours over no more than four days. Although the 8-hour day has its origins in early modern Spain, the movement to limit the number of hours and days that an employer could demand escalated in the 19th-century as industrialization put more workers on the clock and in the factory. In 1835, workers in Philadelphia sparked the first general strike in North America over a ten-hour day; by the 1870s, that demand was eight hours. The forty-hour week was ultimately enshrined in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937. So why even less work? As the Washington Post’s Helaine Olen writes, “A four-day workweek is an audacious but necessary ask, a way of deepening the conversation about how overwhelmed and overworked Americans can achieve desperately needed balance.” (April 19, 2022)
A new coalition strategy to dump incumbent Republican Senator Mike “MAGA” Lee has emerged in Utah’s Democratic Party, which hasn’t won a Senate race in over 50 years. A faction of Utah Democrats wants to throw the weight of that state’s party towards independent Evan McMullin, who won 21% of the 2016 presidential vote in Utah and has the support of Never-Trumpers, at the nominating convention. “If Utah Democratic delegates go that route, it would be the first maneuver of its kind in the state’s history,” reports Katie McKeller of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News. (April 19, 2022)
You are invited:
To a conference in honor of New School for Social Research sociologist Jeffrey Goldfarb: As you can see, I am on the program, and you can register here.
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