Members of the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus (MHDC) and the Mississippi Senate Democratic Caucus (MSDC) held the first of a series of public hearings to discuss possible reforms to the TANF program in Mississippi. 

On Tuesday, lawmakers heard from national experts on TANF funds as well as families who are directly impacted by the program.

TANF, which stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a workforce development and training program that is set up to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency through employment and training activities provided by the TANF Work Program.

There are rough 190,000 children in Mississippi who live in poverty and 2,113 families receive TANF funds. A family of three receives $260 a month from TANF.

Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Bob Anderson, spoke to the panel first. Among the details he shared about the program, Anderson said roughly 90% of TANF applications that are received are denied or withdrawn before they can be completed.

Anderson agreed that the application process has issues, and that the department has been working to develop a 5 year strategic plan to address these problems. There will be an advisory committee made up of families currently or formerly receiving TANF dollars to provide insight on how to make the application process better.

One major hang up lawmakers pointed out was the lack of reporting the department has over the programs supported by TANF. Anderson admitted that there was no systematic method to reporting the success rates of programs that TANF funds are provided for.

Elisabeth Lower-Basch Deputy Director of Policy, Center for Law and Social Policy said that the number of families receiving TANF assistance in Mississippi has dropped in the last two decades. She added that poverty impacts all ethnicities as well as rural and urban children, but does impact hispanic and black communities more-so.

She also criticized the lack of oversight the state had on the MDHS and their disbursement of the federal dollars.

One speaker to address lawmakers was Delores Suel, a Childcare Center Owner. Suel said she was not even aware that there was a TANF program, or that those dollars could be utilized by childcare facilities in the state to serve impoverished families.

Suel agreed there needed to be accountability when it comes to finding work for needy families in Mississippi and that changes should be made.

There is expected to be at least one more hearing on the issue.

Speakers included: Robert Anderson, Executive Director for the Department of Human Services; Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Deputy Director of Policy, Center for Law and Social Policy; Carol Burnett, Executive Director, Mississippi Low-Income Child-Care Initiative; Brandy Nichols, Springboard to Opportunities mother; Delores Suel, Childcare Center Owner; Rev. Reginald Buckley, President of General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi, Inc.