More than four years after the start of the Mississippi welfare investigation, and one year after the first major federal plea, none of the seven people pleading guilty have been sentenced as they continue to cooperate with investigators.
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HOW IT ALL STARTED
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Author of The Backchannel Anna Wolfe answers reader questions about the Mississippi welfare scandal.
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MORE FROM THE BACKCHANNEL
There are several different ways, some criminal and some just wrong, that the people in charge of the welfare program misspent the money, according to auditors.
1) Agency and nonprofit employees are accused of forging documents in order to issue or cover up illegal payments, sometimes to themselves – a clear crime.
2) Officials and contractors awarded TANF money for activities or programs that did not serve the poor or satisfy other goals of the welfare program, a possible violation of federal regulations.
3) Officials awarded money to specific vendors – at times on the suggestion of political figures – without an application or bid process, a possible violation of federal grant guidance.
A federal grant purchase might be wasteful, constitute a conflict of interest or violate federal grant rules, but not rise to the level of a crime. That’s why criminal charges in the state’s case so far cover only about $4 million, while the auditor’s office has recommended civil damages up to $96 million – $77 million the office says John Davis misspent plus interest.
We broke down what an audit alleges MDHS actually purchased versus what could have been purchased with funding from the federal TANF program.