Violet (name changed for privacy) and her 5-year-old son live day-to-day figuring out which bill to pay first, then second, then third or even at all. At age 23 and after losing two jobs, through no fault of her own, she receives $186 a month from a state program designed to help poor families, but shockingly has helped the rich get richer.
Eight years ago, when Violet was 15, her family instructed her to stop attending a public school in Greenville, Miss., to take care of her father. Bed-ridden after having a stroke, Violet’s father divorced her mother years ago and never spent much time with his daughter. Suddenly, all that changed.
Instead of hanging out with her school friends, she was with him full time, only separated when she needed to take a nap on a small bed in his room. Violet was his round-the-clock caretaker: feeding him, washing him, changing his pajamas, talking to him when he was awake, and cleaning his bottom and the bucket toilet every day. No one in the family could afford a health care aide. Her father didn’t have private insurance.
Two years later, he passed. Violet is thankful today for being there to prolong his life and often cries when she talks about him. She regrets not finishing school, realizing that taking the GED was not as easy as she had hoped.
A year after his death, Violet found herself pregnant, choosing not to have an abortion at 18. Today her son is a happy kid, though like Violet, he rarely sees his father, and she struggles to find the money to take care of him.
Gov. Tate Reeves’ So-called ‘Painful Experience’
For about three years, Violet received $186 a month from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the same program that state-appointed officials, nonprofit leaders and friends stole money from, including $5 million in TANF funds redirected to build a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Meanwhile, Gov. Reeves recently said that his successful push to prevent Medicaid expansion for more low-income women and their children has scarred him for life. Reeves’ so-called painful experience prevented around 300,000 Mississippians from receiving Medicaid coverage for health care. Reeves’ decision likely has resulted in the closure of rural hospitals that provide care to needy patients who don’t have any insurance or money.
While claiming that criticism over his refusal to expand Medicaid scarred him, Reeves signed a bill that allows Medicaid coverage for pregnant moms for up to a year, removing some of the political pressure from his weary shoulders. Helping pregnant moms and their infants for one year is sorely needed, but it’s not enough, and Reeves surely knows it.
The Atlantic magazine took a look at Mississippi’s pitiful poverty programs last October.
“Money meant to feed poor kids and promote their parents’ employment instead went to horse ranches, sham leadership-training schemes, fatherhood-promotion projects, motivational speeches that never happened, and those volleyball courts,” wrote Annie Lowrey, the author of the book, “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World.”
“The scandal is a Robin Hood in reverse, with officials caught fleecing the poor to further enrich the wealthy, in the poorest state in the country,” she wrote.
Lowrey also suggested solutions. “It is … an argument for ending welfare as we know it … and not just in Mississippi. I’m not talking about telling needy families to fend for themselves. I mean that the United States should abandon its stingy, difficult means-tested programs and move to a system of generous, simple-to-access social supports—ones that would also be harder for politicians to plunder.”
We can only wish.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said that, in 2020, New Hampshire had the highest TANF payment in the country, $862 a month for a single parent and one child. Mississippi has the lowest at $186 a month. The same political party controls New Hampshire and Mississippi. New Hampshire is 92% white, and Mississippi is 38% Black.
The federal government equally divides TANF funds among all 50 states, sending Mississippi about $86.5 million a year, and Mississippi doesn’t even spend its share year to year, sometimes holding onto millions of dollars.
Importantly, it’s doubtful the federal and state investigations will lead to fixing a broken poverty program and designing one without corruption going forward.
Do More For Low-Income Mothers
Where Violet lives, in Greenville, it’s hard to find a job with or without a high school education. It’s one of the poorest cities in the country. Desperate for more money for her child, Violet found a part-time job at a laundromat, where she made about $560 a month for a year or so.
She knew she could make more as a full-time health care aide. After spending two years at her father’s side, she knew she was well-trained for such a position, even without stepping foot in a school or training center. After months of appealing to local health-care agencies to hire her without a high school diploma, she finally found what she knew she could do—tend to an elderly woman. She increased her salary enough to pay for her son’s day care.
Not long ago, the elderly woman passed. Violet is now looking for another job as an aide.
Meanwhile, all Mississippians should be looking for better leaders to run their state.
Today, Violet receives TANF and SNAP payments for food and is aggressively applying for an open spot anywhere while following the rules.
Reeves can’t say Violet hasn’t tried. She has the scars to prove it.
Editor’s Note: Karen Hinton is godmother to Violet’s son and is the author of “Penis Politics: A Memoir of Women, Men & Power.” She also served as press secretary to Democratic politicians in Mississippi, Washington, D.C. and New York City. Hinton is a member of the Mississippi Free Press Advisory Board.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.