Welfare scandal sharpens contrasts in long-poor Mississippi
In Mississippi, where elected officials have a long history of praising self-sufficiency and condemning federal antipoverty programs, a welfare scandal has exposed how millions of dollars were diverted to the rich and powerful — including pro athletes — instead of helping some of the neediest people in the nation. The misuse of welfare money rankles Nsombi Lambright-Haynes, executive director of One Voice, a nonprofit that works to help economically vulnerable communities in Mississippi. “It’s shameful and disgusting, especially when we’ve been a state where we hear discussion every year about poor people not needing resources and poor people being lazy and just needing to get up to work,” she said. The state has ranked among the poorest in the U.S. for decades, but only a fraction of its federal welfare money has been going toward direct aid to families. Instead, the Mississippi Department of Human Services allowed well-connected people to fritter away tens of millions of welfare dollars from 2016 to 2019, according to the state auditor and state and federal prosecutors. Former Human Services Director John Davis has pleaded guilty to charges tied to welfare misspending in one of the state’s largest public corruption cases. The scandal has ensnared high-profile figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who is one of more than three dozen defendants in a civil lawsuit that the current Human Services director filed to try to recover some of the welfare money wasted while Davis was in charge.