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Did Mississippi Tap TANF to Settle Court Fees for Racist Behavior?

Source: Linkedin

Last year, the state of Mississippi settled a civil suit from disgruntled employee, Dana Kidd, claiming her supervisor Jacob Black arranged for her dismissal because of her race.

Mississippi Department of Human Service (DHS) defense attorneys couldn’t reasonably argue Kidd’s dismissal had anything to do with incompetence.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi accepted as fact Kidd was an “excellent employee, [who] consistently performed at a high level, and had an unblemished record.” The state’s own employees had admitted in court Kidd was assigned to the “utter mess” in DHS’ Hinds County office specifically because of her impressive experience. Kidd “was ‘the go-to-person’ for, like, almost everybody,” said DHS employee Kristie Greer Ellis, who had gone so far as to ask Black if he were deliberately “trying to get rid of” Kidd.


The court also noted other African American employees claimed Jacob Black “had a problem with Black females” and that he had made clear most employees he wanted terminated at DHS were African American. Court testimony also suggested Black “would treat white employees more favorably than Black employees.”


Gov. Tate Reeves installed current director Robert Anderson to replace DHS’ former executive director John Davis amid allegations that Davis misappropriated millions of dollars of TANF funding. Anderson was not promoted from inside DHS, however, and lacked practical knowledge of the agency, so he turned to Jacob Black (and his racism, according to Kidd) for direction. Kidd claimed Black soon directed Anderson to fire her.


Anderson told the court he fired Kidd not on Jacob Black’s advice but because she “was not in her office” at a time when Anderson was wantonly looking for heads to chop. She was not around, however, because Black had exiled Kidd to a satellite office in Hinds County—again allegedly for race-based reasons. The court acknowledged “there is record evidence of racial animus” by Jacob Black, as well as evidence that he banished Kidd to the Hinds County office “to get rid of her.”


The court argued a “reasonable jury” could doubt Anderson’s claim he didn’t consult with Black before removing Kidd. The same reasonable jury could also argue that firing Kidd for using her considerable talent to fix a busted office was not a sober reason for dismissal.



TANF Money for Court Fees?


Faced with facts, DHS stopped arguing that Jacob Black hadn’t behaved like a racist, and it opted to settle Kidd’s case. The division admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but made sure to pass Kidd a quick $240,000 for her trouble. Accounting submissions DHS made to the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration confirm the state paid $240,000 in 2023 to Tupelo law firm Waide & Associates, which represented Kidd in her suit.


However, the source of those funds appears to be federal money slated for impoverished Mississippi families and their children.


“General Fund 5365100000,” which is cited as the source of Kidd’s payment in results, is “related to federal funding received through grants,” according to the Mississippi Office of State Auditor (see page 9 of linked document). In addition to being “used to provide services for people in need,” the federal government allows the money to pay “certain administrative costs.”


Mississippi is so busy blowing TANF money on irrelevant diversions that only 211 adults in the state qualified for TANF benefits in 2023, and only 329 single-parent families. In fact, only about 2,400 Mississippi children received TANF in 2023, despite the state’s nearly 3 million people being some of the most impoverished in the nation.

Emails and visits to the Mississippi Department of Human Services to clear up misunderstanding received scant clarification by publication date. We forwarded our results to MDHS staff and were told that the topic was both a legal and a personnel matter and that agency information needed to be delivered through a more formal public records request. We will update this article and future articles with MSDH input as it arrives.


If preliminary information from proves accurate, however, this would not be the first time state officials have redirected Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money to cover state officials’ malfunction and abuse. Officials have already used nearly $1 million in TANF funds to pay one auditor to recover TANF dollars that Mississippi’s own department heads—specifically John Davis—flittered away to Republican allies and campaign supporters. In 2023, Mississippi paid New Orleans-based law firm Jones Walker LLP more than $500,000 from the same TANF-financed “General Fund 5365100000” to investigate where all the TANF money went. Reporters noted the TANF source for that fund last May. The state paid the firm an additional $367,986 by March of this year.


Not coincidentally, perhaps, Jones Walker LLP is one of Governor Tate Reeves’ more generous campaign donors.

$867,000 represents a 4722% increase on Jones Walker’s investment. By this metric, you could give Reeves a $20 bill and he’d hand you a $1,000 gold coin.

Federal law allows states to use TANF funds to pay for “accounting” and “litigation,” but it includes other directives that act as an open door for disreputable nonprofit owners, some of whom have pled guilty to illegally sopping up precious resources for hungry Mississippi families. Federal rules allow General Fund 5365100000 to also be used to “optimiz[e] all available resources to sustain the family unit and encourage traditional family values(Page 5), which many critics consider a woefully outdated view of family in the days of LGBTQ+ partnerships, mixed marriages, and abundant single-parent households. Nancy New and her son Zach New, who both pled guilty to conspiring with John Davis to unlawfully divert TANF benefits, worked under the pretense of promoting traditional family values while successfully applying to DHS for massive grants to fund drug company investments and other abuses.

Civil suits filed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services against News’ nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, uncovered court documents and text messages suggesting retired NFL millionaire Brett Favre and former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant both conspired with New to spend TANF money on an $8 million volleyball stadium. We’re not clear on how many traditional families the investment preserved.


Mississippi is so busy blowing TANF money on irrelevant diversions that only 211 adults in the state qualified for TANF benefits in 2023 (See Page 17), and only 329 single-parent families (Page 4). In fact, only about 2,400 Mississippi children received TANF in 2023, despite the state’s nearly 3 million people being some of the most impoverished in the nation.


Black Involved in TANF Scandal


However loose federal requirements may be, Nancy New and other bad actors still would not have been able to nab such laughable contracts without people inside state government helping them cook and prepare their applications. According to auditors, one of the personalities involved in that process is the same Jacob Black the state paid $240K in court fees to cover.


Two years ago, State Auditor Shad White served a $3.6 million civil demand on Black for his role in helping nonprofits like Nancy New’s Mississippi Community Education Center dodge federal TANF rules and finagle successful applications.


“Email communications of Jacob Black appear to indicate he provided advice to subgrantee MCEC to design a lease contract in a way that TANF prohibitions for construction and capital improvements would be circumvented,” auditors wrote in a 2022 report to the Mississippi Department of Human Services Executive Director Robert G. Anderson (See Page 12).


“On March 25, 2017, Jacob Black received an email from Zach New, representative of MCEC, with a lease agreement attachment. Zach New requested Jacob Black review the lease agreement and let him know if anything needed to be added. The lease agreement attached was titled “Families First Lease Agreement with Calvary Baptist Church,” auditors reported on Page 13 of the report.


On March 27, 2017, auditors revealed Black responded to Zach New, saying, “The only thing that concerns me is the language that says that Calvary Baptist will submit receipts for the construction project to you all and then the rent will be paid. It seems to get really close to showing that you all are controlling the Brick and Mortar process which TANF has a strict prohibition against.”


Black went on to “recommend using language that says that Family First has the right to vacate the lease at any time due to insufficient funds.” This, he assured, “will be vague enough to not tie you directly to the construction, but you can always use this clause as an escape clause if the construction is not going as you feel it should.” (Also see Page 13)


Additionally, email communication indicated Black “directed (employees) to award the TANF grant to Autism Center with the knowledge that the scope of work did not align with a TANF purpose,” said investigators, and they took care to include Black’s other transgressions such as his “excessive travel costs” for “first-class flights” that accountants uncovered for Black and convicted DHS Executive Director John Davis and other individuals. One first-class flight for Black in 2016 cost nearly $7,000 (Page 23). Accountants discovered TANF funds intended to feed children instead fed Visa card purchases for opulent plane seats.

The state auditor's office reported that Black has paid nothing of his $3.6 million demand as of Fiscal Year 2023.


Black Still Employed?


Black has moved on from his role as deputy administrator at the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, but information requests suggest he is still working for the state, and with a nice pay hike, despite his colorful history. In 2021, Black became attorney supervisor for the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, according to government watchdog (please donate, by the way!), and in 2023, he was reported to be filling the role of Information Technology Manager III. Black’s aptitude for technology is slightly compromised by the fact that as DHS deputy administrator he recommended a $1.7 million contract with Gainwell Technologies LLC for a buggy Interoperability Platform (IOP) System that routinely fails to reimburse Medicaid providers. Last September, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid was working with Gainwell Technologies “to create a one-time job to identify all fee-for-service (FFS) claims” the system has erroneously denied since Oct. 1, 2022. It was laboring with Gainwell to update non-covered codes last November, and still trying to fix medical equipment denials as recently as February.

If still employed, Black is enjoying a $25,000 pay increase since his deputy administrator days.

If still employed, “the son and product of a Baptist preacher” appears to keep falling up, despite possibly costing impoverished families a quarter million dollars in court fees and untold millions in dishonest TANF applications, according to the state auditor’s office. Meanwhile, state leaders continue to tap the TANF trough for even more auditors and lawyers.


Austin Garrett Smith, who is being sued by the Mississippi Department of Human Services over allegations of misspending TANF money in the same scandal that entangled New and her cohorts, has filed a separate taxpayer suit against Gov. Tate Reeves. Smith claims Reeves is trying to protect his political allies, including Telesouth Communications, the propaganda arm of the Mississippi Republican Party, and former Governor Phil Bryant, who shared incriminating texts in the lead up to Favre’s alleged misuse of TANF money.


This month Smith filed a motion claiming Mississippi’s governors are still needlessly “wast[ing] millions of taxpayer dollars” paying for civil litigation on behalf of the state, despite it being the state attorney general’s job to pursue TANF-connected clawbacks. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch recently ordered State Auditor Shad White to cease his investigation of Favre, saying it was indeed the AG’s job to pursue wrongdoers, not White’s.


Smith’s attorney, Jim Waide, of aforementioned Waide & Associates, told BGX taxpayers are being “double billed” by making them pay both for the service of Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Reeves’ contracted lawyers. In his recent motion, Smith argues Fitch can be the only state official to pay private attorneys and that she must fund them from her own budget, as outlined in Pickering v. Langston Law Firm and Pickering v. Hood.

Additionally, Smith argues that Congress did not plan TANF to fund lawyers.

"According to 42 U.S.C. § 601(a), the permissible purposes for use of TANF funds are: (1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families," Smith claims in his motion. "No matter how liberally one might read the above federal statute, funding civil litigation is outside the authorized purposes of Congress."

So far, Reeves has not denied spending TANF money in his pursuit of Smith. Neither did he deny using TANF money in his February motion to dismiss Smith’s suit against him. If case filings and non-responses are an indicator, the governor and state officials are voraciously raiding TANF for lavish paychecks.

The growing legion of opportunists and shady nonprofits (and possibly state employees with a history of legal liability) is finally beginning to catch the attention of Congress, which is using Mississippi corruption as an argument for stricter TANF laws. The Biden administration is now considering TANF rule changes that insist states spend more welfare money on family welfare, as opposed to college scholarships, child protective services investigations, foster care, horse ranches, pharmaceutical company investments, and volleyball stadiums.


Whether or not Mississippi’s shameless excess will be the final straw to reforming the TANF slush fund is yet to be determined.

(This article has been edited with new information links and the correct spelling of NFL player Brett Favre's name. We apologize for the mistake.)


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