In my first week at Mississippi Today in September of 2018, I sat on the floor in the middle of the newsroom, federal financial reports from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program splayed in front of me. “I am investigating our state’s TANF program,” I wrote in an email to my editor.  “Where is the money going and where is it not? We know the TANF program has not improved our rate of poverty: is that an unfortunate reality or the result of negligence? Even by design?”

Over the last four years, I’ve sought that answer. 

What followed was the largest public fraud case in state history.

Officials stole or misspent tens of millions of these federal dollars that could have been used to provide food, child care, workforce training or cash assistance to tens of thousands of vulnerable families. We first broke the story in 2020 about the role that former NFL quarterback Brett Favre played in two pet projects that received welfare funds.

But it wasn’t until I got my hands on some private text messages earlier this year that Mississippians learned just how involved their governor was at the time.

“I will open a hole,” then-Gov. Phil Bryant texted Favre, days before millions of welfare dollars began flowing to the athlete’s pharmaceutical venture.

Our series, The Backchannel, provided a groundbreaking glimpse into the inner workings of state government and altered the course of the ongoing investigation, pressuring officials to acknowledge just how high up the corruption went. 

Mississippi Today is relentless in its pursuit of answers. But the reporting isn’t cheap. In the last four years, I’ve filed more than 140 public records requests, which have cost thousands of dollars, and traveled everywhere from Marks to Kiln to tell Mississippi’s story.

You can help us continue this work:

Most of all, keep reading. You keep reading, and we’ll keep going to uncover the truth.

Now through December 31, the Maddox Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s education program, and additional supporters will match your new recurring donation dollar-for-dollar, combined up to $54,000. That means your $25 turns into $100 to continue telling your stories.

Maddox Foundation was founded by Dan Maddox in 1968. He and his wife, Margaret Maddox, had a commitment to young people, a love of nature and a vision for making their corner of the world a better place. Maddox Foundation President Robin Hurdle has continued their legacy, which lives on through the current work of the foundation. 

Maddox Foundation, located in Hernando, has made many signature investment grants into youth development. These investments include renovating and supporting the Margaret Maddox Family YMCA; putting an internet-connected computer in every public classroom in Mississippi; creating innovative places for children to learn and play; establishing the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi; and funding the Education Director position and the MTV exhibit at the Grammy Museum Mississippi.

The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation (JLFF), based in Berkeley, CA, supports organizations that advance social justice by promoting world-changing work in investigative journalism, the arts, documentary film and democracy. As a small foundation, JLFF’s investment in NewsMatch allows the Foundation to make a difference across the entire field of local investigative journalism.

The Hewlett Foundation’s Education program supports media outlets that strengthen the information ecosystem around our country’s K-12 education systems. They believe that local communities are a key part of improving teaching and learning opportunities for every student.

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

Anna Wolfe, a native of Tacoma, Wa., is an investigative reporter writing about poverty and economic justice. Before joining the staff at Mississippi Today in September of 2018, Anna worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide daily newspaper. She also worked as an investigative reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and Jackson Free Press, the capital city’s alternative newsweekly. Anna has received national recognition for her work, including the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the 2021 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the 2021 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the 2020 Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the February 2020 Sidney Award for reporting on Mississippi’s debtors prisons. She received the National Press Foundation’s 2020 Poverty and Inequality Award. She also received first place in the regional Green Eyeshade Awards in 2021 for Public Service in Online Journalism and 2020 for Business Reporting, and the local Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2019 and 2018 for reporting on unfair medical billing practices and hunger in the Mississippi Delta.