Protect Families: Urge Your Representative to Vote NO on Senate Bill 2257

February 19, 2020

S.B. 2257 jeopardizes Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF—health care, food, and economic lifelines for Mississippi's most vulnerable children and families.

Two weeks ago, Mississippi officials were arrested for stealing millions of TANF funds meant to help Mississippi's most vulnerable children and families. Yet lawmakers are responding by taking aim at low-income Mississippi families who rely on TANF, Medicaid, and SNAP to access health care, afford groceries, and achieve economic stability.  

S.B. 2257, a bill authored by Senator Josh Harkins (S.D. 20) and championed by State Auditor Shad White, would authorize the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor to examine the state tax returns of recipients of public benefits such as Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF.  Auditor White is claiming that federal law requires this, however, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and our partners have found that no such requirement exists.

While we agree that it's important to fight fraud where it exists (including within state agencies, as we have learned), tax returns are not a reliable data source for confirming whether Mississippians should have used benefits in prior years. Income can vary dramatically over the course of a year, but tax returns do not provide a month-by-month income breakdown. Families with seasonal or variable income may qualify for benefits during months when their income drops. Mississippians who start the year off on strong financial footing but lose their job often depend on public benefits when they are between work, and low-wage workers often do not make enough to afford health insurance or groceries without help from Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF.

In fact, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid (DOM) has recognized that tax returns aren't helpful in verifying Medicaid eligibility. In its most recent Medicaid Eligibility Verification Plan, the DOM considered the accuracy, timeliness, age, and comprehensiveness of tax return data, and determined that tax returns are not a useful data source for verifying Medicaid eligibility. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, the federal agency responsible for fighting fraud and abuse in health care programs, does not use tax return data in Medicaid audits.

Nevertheless, S.B. 2257 passed the Senate last week and was sent to the Mississippi House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee.

The Mississippi Center for Justice is at the frontlines of efforts to stop this dangerous bill in its tracks. Now, we need your help to fight back!

Join us in urging House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar as well as your elected Representative to vote NO on this harmful and baseless bill, which jeopardizes lifesaving health care, food, and economic lifelines for vulnerable children and families statewide.

In addition to the key points above, you can read our in-depth analysis of S.B. 2257 as well as supporting documents here. Note that the Mississippi DOM's finding that tax returns are a bad data source for Medicaid eligibility verifications is on page 8 of the PDF. The DOM Eligibility Verification Plan also contains great information on the myriad of other better data sources the agency uses to verify wages. 

Please call Chairman Lamar and your own representative and urge them to vote NO on S.B. 2257:

1. Call Representative Trey Lamar (H.D. 8), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee:    

  • Capitol Office: (601)359-3343 (please leave a message if he is not available)

2. Call Your State Representative:

  • Not sure who your state representative is? Find them using your address here.
  • Find their phone number here (call their cell or Capitol number and leave a message if they are not available):  

In addition, please spread the word. Feel free to share this action alert with anyone who can help us fight back! 

For more information, please contact Madeline T. Morcelle, JD, MPH, Director of Public Benefits Law at the Mississippi Center for Justice, at mmorcelle@mscenterforjustice.org

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a public interest law firm that fights Mississippi's culture of injustice. We exist because of the generosity of champions of justice in Mississippi and around the country. Please consider supporting our work: Donate.