Mississippi has enacted a policy that will allow low-income single parents to keep more money in their pockets. Credit: FILE: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Mississippi’s relatively small number of families receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Family benefits will receive a monthly increase in payments of $90 under legislation Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law this week.

“Listening to some of the parents and grandparents talk about how the extra benefits are going to help their children, I think it is good,” said Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson. “It has been a long time coming.”

The increase is the first since 1999 for families in Mississippi receiving the welfare benefits.

The bill, authored by Sen. Joey Fillingane, increases the benefits from $170 per month to $260 per month for a family of four. The TANF benefits are paid solely through federal funds.

Norwood praised Mississippi Department of Human Services Executive Director Bob Anderson for advocating to the Legislature for increasing the benefits.

Anderson’s actions came on the heels of the scandal that occurred during the administration of former Gov. Phil Bryant, where former DHS Director John Davis and others were 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 earlier this session. In addition to increasing the benefits, Anderson has said he wants to re-evaluate the criteria for determining eligibility.

“We are in the midst of this pandemic,” Anderson said earlier this session. “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 $260 per month for a family of three is 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, a family would receive an additional $24 per month for each child increasing the size of the family by more than three.

“There are so many people in need of additional assistance. So many are doing without,” said Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson. “Any little thing we can do to help is a blessing.”

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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.