Despite Housing Crisis, Mississippi May Return Up to Millions in Federal Rent Aid to DC

“For them to suggest people like me aren’t working? It’s a slap in the face,” said one woman affected by the end of the pandemic assistance program. “It’s very insulting and degrading.”

By Brett Wilkins  Published 8-15-2022 by Common Dreams

Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves.
Photo: Tate Reeves/Facebook

Tate Reeves, Mississippi’s Republican governor, faced intense criticism Monday as the poorest U.S. state ended participation in a federal rent assistance program that helped shield tens of thousands of people facing eviction during the economic upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Invoking former U.S. President Ronald Reagan—whose administration eviscerated the social safety net and turbocharged economic inequality—Reeves tweeted that “today in Mississippi, we are ending RAMP, a federal program that incentivizes people not to work by using taxpayer dollars to pay for up to 15 months of free rent and utilities.”

Reeves was referring to the Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program, which was funded via Covid-19 economic bills passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021.

Rivers Orman, a spokesperson for Mississippi Home Corporation—which runs RAMP—told NBC News that RAMP has “served over 36,000 households” and has “distributed over $200 million in funding to help those who were most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

State data show that Mississippi was still processing nearly 17,000 RAMP applications as of July 31. Monday was the last day for residents to submit an application.

“They don’t care. They just don’t care,” Teresa Jackson, a 45-year-old employed hairdresser from Jackson, told NBC News. “The amount of applications they’re getting shows there is a need, and for them to suggest people like me aren’t working? It’s a slap in the face. It’s very insulting and degrading. You’re just not being sensitive to people’s needs and understanding it.”

According to Mississippi Today:

Reeves’ office said the program has about $130 million remaining. How much will be returned to Washington will not be known until all of the obligations are met… Mississippi was allocated about $340 million in assistance. Reeves said Wednesday that the state has spent about $200 million. He said that 86,146 people applied for the program and that 36,889 were approved for assistance.

In February, Mississippi Today reported… that 66% of the applicants approved to receive funds through the program were employed, and the majority are Black and female. The latest U.S. Census data available… showed that 44.5% of adult Mississippians surveyed reported being behind on their rent or mortgage, with eviction or foreclosure in the next two months being either very likely or somewhat likely.

At the same time period last year, 60.5% reported eviction or foreclosure as likely. At times during the pandemic, Mississippi led the nation in the percentage of people reporting likelihood of eviction or foreclosure.

“This decision shows a complete disregard for people’s health and safety,” Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said in a statement earlier this month. “Nearly 1 in 3 renter households in Mississippi is extremely low-income, and our state is short more than 48,000 affordable rental homes for extremely low-income renters.”

“But the governor has decided to make housing even more precarious,” she continued. “That’s outrageous, heartless, and utterly devoid of any reason. Mississippians are working—and working hard. But our leaders keep depriving them of basic tools to survive, trapping them in an endless cycle of poverty.”

Referencing allegations that Mississippi officials misspent funds meant to help impoverished residents, Wade added that “it’s also deeply ironic that Gov. Reeves is decrying supposedly wasteful government spending” while “state leaders are currently embroiled in a scandal in which millions of dollars designated for the poor were instead funneled into luxury cars, sporting events, and cellphones.”

“Our leaders should be helping lift people out of poverty,” she said, “not entrenching it further.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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