Advocates criticize legislators over bill allowing audits into people on welfare programs

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Following State Auditor Shad White’s office arresting six individuals for stealing taxpayer funds, Mississippians want lawmakers to act.

Two bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, but not gaining support from advocates.

Speakers from 10 organizations including the Mississippi Center for Justice, the state NAACP, Children Defense Fund, and others did not hold back their criticism urging the legislature to block these bills and switch who the government should blame.

In the wake of over $4 million stolen out of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program by the very people meant to help those in poverty, Mississippi Senators and Representatives are introducing new bills.

“In general terms, if the bill can be used as a tool to rule out fraud in the system than I support that,” Rep. Trey Lamar said.

Known as H.B 749 and S.B 2257 the law would allow the State Auditor to audit tax returns of people receiving benefits from Medicaid, TANF, and SNAP.

“If they’re telling one arm of the government that they are eligible and in other words, if they make X, but are filing tax returns that they made Y, then that’s a problem,” Rep. Lamar continued.

“Instead of fighting fraud and abuse where it actually occurred, our elected officials are targeting the victims,” Vangela Wade of the Mississippi Center for Justice contradicted.

Right in the center of the Capitol leaders of organizations fighting for those in poverty did not hold back their criticism of these bills, believing it doesn’t solve future tax fraud.

“The Division of Medicaid has determined that tax returns are an unreliable date of source for verifying eligibility,” Wade said. “Beneficiary fraud is very rare.”

“If you’ve got to go somewhere and find somebody’s tax returns, how long does that delay a person to access benefits?,” Oleta Fitzgerald of the Children’s Defense Fund. “How hungry does that child have to go?”.

Advocates also demanded lawmakers restrict the amount of tax funds given out to non-profits in contracts and block grants. Putting it back under the TANF main staff.

Rep. Lamar expects the Senate version of the bill to be adopted while the House version dies off. He also elaborated it wouldn’t be a full out audit, but a cross-check to monitor those who benefit and welfare providers.

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