Bob Anderson, right, the state Department of Human Services director, is asking lawmakers to support an increase in monthly TANF checks. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The monthly benefit for a family receiving welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would be increased from $170 per month to $260 for a family of three if legislation approved Wednesday by the Mississippi Senate Public Health Committee becomes law.

“We are in the midst of this pandemic,” Department of Human Services Executive Director Bob Anderson told the Public Health Committee Wednesday afternoon. “We think this is an opportune time to provide this assistance for our TANF families… for the poorest of the poor in our state.”

The bill that passed the Senate committee on Wednesday will next be considered by the full Senate. If it passes there, it will be to the House for consideration.

Anderson also pointed out the monthly benefits for Mississippi’s TANF recipients have not been increased since 1999 and are significantly lower than the benefits recipients are receiving in contiguous states.

The $260 per month for a family of three would be higher than the benefits for all of the surrounding states except Tennessee, which provides $277 per month. Arkansas is the lowest at $204. In Mississippi, the family would receive an additional $24 per month for each child increasing the size of the family by more than three.

The increase will not cost the state any money. TANF, a program designed to provide benefits for needy children under the age of 18, is paid for with federal funds, though the state Legislature sets the amount of the benefits.

The increase in benefits comes on the heels of the former DHS Director John Davis and others being indicted on charges related to siphoning off the TANF money designed to help “the poorest of the poor” for personal use. State Auditor Shad White alleges that millions in TANF funds were being directed to nonprofits that were supposed to provide services for the needy, but instead the funds being diverted for personal use.

READ MORE: Complete coverage of the alleged TANF embezzlement scandal.

The state receives a federal grant each year of $86.5 million for TANF. Of that amount, $30 million is diverted to Child Protections Services that oversees the state’s foster child program.

While Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, only between 2,500-3,000 families are normally in the TANF program, Anderson said. In addition to increasing the benefits, if the Legislature agrees, he also said that the agency will be looking at the eligibility requirements for TANF.

During the committee hearing, Public Health Chair Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, asked if the increase could go into effect upon passage of the bill instead of July 1. Anderson said the agency has the funds to pay immediately for the increase and voiced support for Bryan’s proposal, which was approved by the full committee.

Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, asked Anderson if DHS could use some of the excess TANF funds to help with food insecurity in the state during the pandemic. Anderson said TANF funds would not be diverted to food insecurity issues, but he said other federal funds were designated for that purpose. He said his agency was requesting an increase in federal funds for food insecurity.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.