By: Anna Wolfe
MISSISSIPPI TODAY – A downtown Jackson resource center funded by millions of state welfare dollars was quiet Wednesday morning. Blue bins labeled “fresh produce” in a mock farmers market sat empty. Monitors in the computer lab were black and toys in the children’s playroom sat neatly on their shelves.
Families First for Mississippi’s State Street center, run by the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, promises to lift families out of poverty. The state has granted the nonprofit approximately $53 million since the beginning of fiscal year 2018 reportedly to do just that, state expenditures show.
“Our main goal is getting them off TANF,” Will Lamkin, operation coordinator for the center, said Wednesday morning, referring to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash-assistance program.
Hours later, law enforcement agents would arrest the nonprofit’s owner, Nancy New, and former Human Services director John Davis in the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history, according to the office of the State Auditor.
New and Davis allegedly stole millions from the federal TANF program intended to provide basic assistance and work supports to the nation’s poorest residents. The federal government gives states broad discretion to spend the money — about $130 million a year in Mississippi.
In 2018, the state used just 5.4 percent of the money on cash assistance — historically known as welfare — for poor families.
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