Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) approved a bill requiring government agencies to verify whether recipients of food stamps and other entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, are eligible to receive those benefits.
Bryant signed House Bill 1090, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Brown (R-Nettleton), into law on April 12. Beginning on July 1, the state’s Department of Human Services (MDHS) will be required to privatize its eligibility verification operations, instead of hiring more government employees to do the work.
HB 1090 also prohibits MDHS from asking the federal government for exemptions from federal laws requiring welfare recipients to demonstrate efforts to find work. In addition, the new law prohibits welfare recipients from using taxpayer funds on alcohol, gambling, adult entertainment, and similar purposes.
Customized for Mississippi
Brown says his bill was written with Mississippians in mind.
“We worked with the agencies, both DHS and Mississippi Medicaid, to make sure we tailored our efforts to how Mississippi operates,” Brown said. “We had their input. We got them on board, got the governor’s office to buy in, and thankfully, we got the [lawmakers] to buy in—most of them, anyway.”
Brown says out-of-control increases in entitlement spending have been starving out other government services.
“We have a lot of people that are needy in our state, and the problem we are running into has been escalating costs of Medicaid,” Brown said. “If we didn’t control welfare fraud and abuse, we were going to have to cut services to the neediest.”
‘From Dependency to Dignity’
Jameson Taylor, vice president for policy at the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, says the new law will help reduce welfare fraud and encourage at-risk individuals to be more self-dependent.
“We are the poorest state in the country,” Taylor said. “We have the second-lowest work participation rate in the country. Welfare is a trap. We want to help move people from dependency to dignity, and from poverty to prosperity. That’s what these reforms do. They will also save the state money by kicking fraudsters off our rolls.”
Taylor says the new law is about saving lives, not just saving taxpayers’ money.
“The fiscal savings pales in comparison to how these reforms can transform people’s lives,” Taylor said. “Kansas implemented just one of the reforms in the Mississippi law—eliminating food stamps for able-bodied adults—then they tracked these people to measure the results. Half obtained employment almost immediately, and almost two-thirds were working within a year. Incomes rose by an average of 127 percent per year, with many finding permanent, well-paying jobs in a variety of industries.”
Keeping Faith with Taxpayers
Brown says the new law will ensure government honors the taxpayers’ trust.
“Most taxpayers are more than willing to help those that need help,” said Brown. “If a Mississippian is using those benefits in Disney World, then they start questioning the whole program. Then, if they lose faith, are we really helping people, or are people just gaming the system? We want the taxpayers to have faith in us that we’re good stewards with the taxpayer dollars, by helping people who need the help.”