“People overestimate what they can accomplish in one legislative session and underestimate what they can accomplish in ten.”
In this series, we are conducting a review of what Mississippi lawmakers have accomplished over the past 10 years. The list provided here is not comprehensive, and we feature only the policies we like: some of which were initiated by MCPP (marked by an *asterisk* below).
So far, we have covered:
In this installment, we will be looking at legislative accomplishments regarding social welfare. We will focus on only two laws: but they are each, in their own right, very significant accomplishments. The first is the 2017 HOPE Act. The second is the 2019 Children’s Promise Act. MCPP led the way in getting these policies passed and has, also, assisted with the ongoing implementation of these programs.
The Hope Act*
In 2015, Rep. Chris Brown, Rep. Jason White, and Senator Josh Harkins partnered together to strengthen Mississippi’s welfare system by rooting out fraud and abuse. One of those bills (HB 740) passed the House, but died in the Senate. In 2016, Senator Kevin Blackwell joined the effort and an even stronger bill almost passed both chambers. Finally, in 2017, Mississippi passed what some observers still consider the gold standard for recent state welfare reform efforts: The HOPE Act (HB 1090). According to one independent review, the HOPE Act moved “Mississippi to the forefront of states in overall benefits integrity and the move from reliance on benefit programs to employment.”
Even higher praise came from the law’s critics, with The Nation commenting: “The legislation reads like a compilation of all-time favorites from a Republican wish list.”
The HOPE Act contains multiple commonsense reforms. One such policy entails verifying whether people on Food Stamps (SNAP) live in Mississippi, are in prison, or, even, whether they are still alive. Another reform is the restoration of federal income and asset tests, thus insuring that millionaires and others stay off welfare. In addition, the law instituted a third-party eligibility auditing system estimated to save state and federal taxpayers millions of dollars.
In November 2019, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) undertook an analysis of just one of the reforms in the HOPE Act: a codification of the federally mandated (but often ignored or “waived”) requirement that able-bodied adults without children work, train or volunteer in order to receive Food Stamps.
The results were astonishing.
Prior to the reform, notes FGA, “Just two percent of able-bodied, childless enrollees were engaged in full-time employment. A staggering 85 percent of these able-bodied adults were not working at all.”
After Mississippi reinstituted the SNAP work requirement, able-bodied adult enrollment declined by 50 percent within 3 months, decreasing by 72 percent after almost two years. This reduction in welfare dependency resulted in $93 million in taxpayer savings a year.
Even more encouraging, former welfare recipients obtained employment in more than 700 different industries, with incomes more than doubling.
The Children’s Promise Act*
Another very important and popular policy victory championed by MCPP is the Children’s Promise Act.
Foster care in Mississippi, as in other states, has struggled under the weight of broken families, drug addiction and human trafficking. The problems the foster care system faces are too complex for government to handle alone. The idea behind the Children’s Promise Act is to generate better outcomes by encouraging the state and the private sector to work together. This is encouraged by offering a tax credit for donations made to nonprofits working with the Department of Child Protection Services (DPS).
The National Council of Nonprofits estimates that every $1 in tax breaks for nonprofit donors saves government $5. A tax break for foster care nonprofits is thus a great way to save the state money. More important, by inviting new donors to support foster care nonprofits, the state is also inviting new eyes, hands, and hearts to take a fresh look at how we can help foster kids, children in poverty, and children with special needs.
The initial iteration of the Children’s Promise Act was passed in 2018. That law (HB 1566), sponsored by Rep. Roun McNeal, contained two different personal income tax credits aimed at helping children with special needs, as well as children in foster care. The law also increased the state tax credit for families hoping to adopt.
The first tax credit in HB 1566 was an $800 credit for donations to diverse organizations (QCOs) that assist low-income families and children with special needs. The second tax credit was a $1,000 credit for donations to organizations (QFCCOs) that specifically work with children in foster care. The law also doubled the state’s existing adoption tax credit from $2,500 to $5,000.
In 2019, MCPP worked with our coalition partners to take the 2018 law and transform it into the Children’s Promise Act (HB 1613), sponsored by Rep. Mark Baker.
This law expanded and improved upon the initial framework laid down in 2018 and significantly increased the amount of money available to help nonprofits in Mississippi. The law contains five different tax credits:
- The original $800 personal income tax credit for donations to nonprofits helping low-income families and children with special needs;
- The original $1,000 personal income tax credit for foster care nonprofits;
- A continuation of the $5,000 adoption tax credit;
- A business tax credit for donations made to foster care nonprofits;
- A business tax credit for donations made to educational service nonprofits.
In 2020, the Legislature again expanded the Children’s Promise Act, doubling the cumulative business tax credit from $5 million to $10 million and providing additional funding stability for the program.
Along with Arizona, Mississippi has been a pioneer in using tax policy to strengthen the state’s foster care and social welfare systems. We were the first state, in particular, to enact a business tax credit to generate largescale donations to foster care nonprofits.
MCPP is proud to have played a leading role in helping pass and implement the Children’s Promise Act and encourages our readers to take advantage of these individual and business tax credits that are doing so much good.