BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
Update: the initial posting of this article did not list some bills that were introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives. They have been added.
Another shot at Entitlement Reforms by the Mississippi Legislature appears to be lost for the 2013 session, proving once again that talk from some Republicans about passing “good conservative legislation” is only talk.
Entitlement Reform bills introduced by Senator Nancy Collins died in committee, as did one by Senator Michael Watson, with the passing of the Tuesday deadline.
In the House, Rep. Hank Lott introduced two entitlement reform bills, and Rep. Omeria Scott introduced a few bills that would have put in place more requirements on beneficiaries, as well. All died in committee.
Scott’s HB 211 would have required annual health screening for Medicaid, CHIP and State Health Plan recipients. HB 214 would have required obese persons to participate in a program on obesity. HB 220 would have required teenage recipients of TANF and Medicaid to participate in programs about birth control, abstinence and parenting. And, HB 313 would require fathers of children receiving public assistance to participate in a responsible Fatherhood Initiative program.
Rep. Hank Lott’s HB 640 would have required the combination of all incomes in a household to determine eligibility for public assistance.
Two of the three bills in the senate would have required drug testing. Collins’ SB 2028 would have required random drug tests as a condition for receiving public benefits. The bill would have set procedures and penalties for how tests would be implemented, and required that the Division of Medicaid, Department of Human Services, Office of Employment Security and the Mississippi Housing Authority all participate. Watson’s SB 2331 would have done the same but also required proof of citizenship.
Senator Collins’ other bill, SB 2075, would have required able bodied recipients of public benefits to comply with mandatory community service. Rep. Lott’s bill, HB 583, was similar.
Both of Senator Collins bills provided for a ruling of ineligibility for a time period proportionate to the severity of the infraction. Watson’s bill would have made law breakers ineligible for one year.
All three bills died in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. SB 2331 was double referred and was also in Judiciary B.
Mississippi leads the nation in the number of people on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many Mississippians give first hand accounts of witnessing abuse of the program. The program pays out more than $957 million in benefits to nearly 660,000 Mississippi residents a year. But investigators say many of those receiving the benefits are doing so illegally. One case of fraud in November 2012 netted nearly two dozen people for $160,000 worth of fraudulent benefit claims.
The labyrinth of federal/state means tested programs is difficult to decipher. There are numerous regulations associated with each. Generally speaking, the federal government provides funding through block grants to the states for such programs as Food Stamps, TANF, Medicaid, Child Welfare, and many others. States then manage the programs through state agencies that set rules for those who qualify within established federal requirements. In some cases, states can set rules for participation, such as work requirements and application standards.
Entitlement Reform was the number one issue as decided by participants in the Mississippi PEP 2013 Conservative State of the State Survey. You can get the entire 51-page report free by signing up HERE.
Considering the number of these programs, the differences in how they are applied and the constant change by which they are managed and regulated, it was impossible to provide survey participants with a precise question regarding specific management of a particular program. That’s government regulation at work for you. Therefore, we asked each under the premise of a general question: Where these reforms are applicable would you support them being carried out?
The questions for each were:
Drug Testing (Figure 1-2)
How important is it that Mississippi require drug testing of beneficiaries of public benefits? 81% answered “very important”.
Work Requirements (Figure 1-2)
How important is it that Mississippi require able bodied individuals to show proof they are looking for employment while receiving public benefits? 92% answered ”very important”
Public Works (Figure 1-2)
How important is it to require able bodied individuals to participate in public works projects such as cleaning up litter, and maintenance of public assets? 85% answered ”very important”
Time Restrictions (Figure 1-2)
How important is it that Mississippi set restrictions on the length of time an able bodied person may receive public assistance? 88% answered ”very important”
A look at the State of the State Report listing of issues shows conservative Mississippians are focused on “pocketbook” issues. They want jobs and reforms that incentivize moving from welfare to work.
The federal welfare reforms of the 1990′s proved that such requirements work. The result then was a 30 percent reduction of the poverty rate of single mothers. The number of black children in poverty dropped to its lowest level ever.
When expectations of self determination are raised–in fact, required–so is achievement. These bills would have raised expectations and achievement. But to get there we must first raise the expectations of the elected officials in Jackson.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett