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Auditor’s report shows significant over-payment of unemployment benefits during pandemic



The report from the Mississippi State Auditor showed an over 300% increase in known over-payments of unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new report was recently released by the Mississippi Auditor citing historic rates of unemployment fraud.

The report by Auditor Shad White shows over $590 million in unemployment compensation was misspent in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fraud shown in Mississippi is also being seen across the nation according to the U.S. Department of Justice which called it “unprecedented.”

“The pandemic response resulted in a historic amount of taxpayer money wasted. Some of this money is simply gone forever,” said Auditor White. “But my office is using the fraud as an to use new audit tools, like advanced data analytics that will hopefully pay dividends in the future.”

Unemployment claims in 2020 were $2.1 billion, a significant increase of 3,500% from 2019's $59.6 million.

The Auditor's office believes one reason the fraud and misspending increased is because the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) altered its fraud-prevention systems. MDES is responsible for administering unemployment benefit programs in the state.


The system change waived the need for social security number verification on claims approvals, while also waiving the one- waiting period for claims, increasing the Weekly Earning Allowance from $40 to $200, and altering the requirement that applicants show separation from all employers.

In order to conduct the data audit, the Auditor's office contracted with a data analytics firm and federal agencies to assist in the investigations. Over the course of the last two years, two arrests for fraud have been made. Those occurred in late 2022.

The report found that COVID-19 response programs resulted in a massive amount of tax dollars stollen, wasted or misspent. Unemployment came to be one of the largest drivers of this misspending during the pandemic, the report outlines. The Inspector General of the United States Department of Labor estimates over $191 billion in unemployment compensation was lost, mainly to fraud.

The State Auditor estimates at least $590 million was misspent during fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 in the state of Mississippi alone. The Auditor's staff is investigating and working to identify fraudulent unemployment claims.


In total, the federal has spent at least $4.17 trillion in COVID relief efforts. That money has primarily gone to stimulus checks ($858 billion), business loan programs like the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP ($828 billion), and unemployment payments ($690 billion).

Graphic provided by State Auditor's report

With the increase in unemployment claims, there was also an increase in errant payments to the tune of 300%. In fiscal year 2020, known over-payments went from $118 million to $473 million.

“The massive loss of money from Mississippi's unemployment fund is partially the result of MDES bypassing or altering their own internal controls which were designed to prevent money from being misspent or stolen. MDES made payments to people who never lost any income or wages, whose identity was stolen, or who were actually incarcerated. Some payments were even made to international criminals,” the report stated.

In order to recover or resolve these over-payment issues due to fraud, the Auditor's office is exploring that have not previously been utilized in Mississippi in hopes of recovering the taxpayer money and holding people accountable.

State Senator Jeremy England, who previously served as Vice Chair of Economic and Workforce in the Senate, said during his time in the position, he held multiple hearings on unemployment benefit over-payments and was in close contact with MDES.


In reviewing the report, England said he was happy to see the Auditor's office doing a deeper dive. However, he believes it is unfair to point fingers at the agency due to the unprecedented times.

Senator England said that MDES was the agency “hit the hardest” in 2020 with major increases to claims because of mandated shutdowns. In order to handle the surge, MDES opened new call centers which were mostly staffed by volunteers that were repurposed employees from businesses.

“With the shutdowns, the state a sudden surge of unemployment claims and MDES took on the biggest role of dealing with that surge. It would be unfair to point the finger at that agency now, considering what they were dealing with at the time,” said England.

Senator England said he personally helped multiple individuals across the state get in touch with MDES to assistance during the shutdowns. He recalls that those newly unemployed individuals were struggling to feed their families and pay their bills as a result of the pandemic.


England said many of the claims made during 2020 were done so by hardworking who he believes would prefer to be working instead of requesting unemployment. He said the numbers at face value do not tell the whole story without proper context.

“I hope his [State Auditor] office is able to identify individuals that intended to defraud the state of money at a time when it was needed most, and I hope we see demands and prosecutions against the most egregious fraudsters very soon,” said England.

The post Auditor's report shows significant over-payment of unemployment benefits during pandemic appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.


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By: Sarah Ulmer
Title: Auditor's report shows significant over-payment of unemployment benefits during pandemic

Published Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2023 17:00:25 +0000

Magnolia Tribune

MHA parts ways with President & CEO Moore



The Mississippi Hospital Association and its outgoing President Tim Moore have been under scrutiny for months following the terminations of membership by a number of hospital systems. MHA's donation to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Presley has also been a point of contention.

The Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) has not only lost significant membership this year, but its Board of Governors is now looking for a new President and CEO.

On Friday, it was made known that MHA had parted ways with longtime President and CEO Tim Moore. The had been forthcoming for some time.

“I have really enjoyed my time at MHA and tried to represent the hospitals across the , and I'm sure, in the future, I'll find a way to continue to do that,” Moore told .

As for what led to the decision by the MHA Board, Moore said that would have to come from chairman Lee McCall, the CEO at Neshoba General Hospital. Calls to McCall were not immediately returned.

The Mississippi Hospital Association has been under scrutiny since it was first made known in a of Magnolia Tribune articles that key hospital across the state were leaving the organization over what was described as a loss of confidence in the MHA leadership.


The University of Mississippi Medical Center made their exit first. In a letter noticing MHA of its termination of membership, Vice Chancellor LouAnne Woodward and Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Alan Jones noted the decision came “due to recurring behavior insufficient transparency around decision making, a misaligned strategic vision and lack of effective communication.”

Within days, George Regional, Memorial in Gulfport, and Singing River Health System followed suit, leaving MHA for similarly stated reasons as voiced by UMMC leadership.

The exit of these hospital systems and others came after the political action committee (PAC) of MHA, Friends of Mississippi Hospitals PAC, made a donation to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley's campaign in the amount of $250,000. It is the largest donation on record for Friends of Mississippi Hospitals PAC.

However, the hospitals that left MHA would not comment as to whether or not the donation impacted their decision to terminate membership.


MHA has been one of the most vocal advocates for Medicaid expansion in the state, going so far as to propose a ballot initiative in 2022. Democratic candidate Presley has made expansion the central theme of his campaign, focusing most of his energy on the state's “ crisis.” Despite various operational, population, and financial factors impacting the stability of hospitals in Mississippi, Presley has attempted to lay their problems solely at the feet of Governor Tate Reeves' opposition to expanding the welfare program.

The incumbent Republican has repeatedly voiced concerns about the cost and efficacy of Medicaid expansion over the years, dating back to when he was Lieutenant Governor. Even in announcing plans this week to reform Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals, which could roughly $700 million in revenue for the health systems across the state when implemented, Governor Reeves questioned the wisdom of adding more to the welfare rolls.

As for the MHA going forward, a notice sent to members on Friday said outgoing President and CEO Moore “will continue serving as needed” through November 30th. MHA Chief Operating Officer Dr. Kim Hoover will serve as acting President and CEO beginning September 25th and throughout the search as the Board looks to name Moore's permanent replacement.

MHA will hold a virtual meeting with its members on Tuesday to further discuss the organization's changes and to answer questions.


The post MHA parts ways with President & CEO Moore appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

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By: Frank Corder
Title: MHA parts ways with President & CEO Moore

Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 17:57:36 +0000


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Why businesses should support a Citizens Police Academy



Columnist Phil Hardwick writes that supporting your local citizens police academy is not only good for public safety but can also benefit businesses in the long run.

Does your business your local police?

Of course, it does. What a silly question. Or maybe it doesn't.

Across the country, local enforcement agencies are facing public praise and criticism as never before. Mass shootings, for example, have put law enforcement in the spotlight. Traffic stops and arrests on show police actions of all types. Recent law enforcement misbehavior, such as that in Rankin County, lead many people to advocate that some police reform is needed.

That us to this question: How much do you know about your local police department or sheriff's office? What's their policy on use of force, vehicle pursuits, no-knock searches, and community policing?

Recently, I had the to attend my local police department's Citizen Police Academy. It's held once a year to familiarize participants with the local department. Sessions meet once a week for several weeks and include a wide variety of subjects, including visits to the jail and . There is even a day at the firing range and a ride-along with an officer evening.  In short, it was a behind-the-scenes look at how law enforcement operates, including classroom instruction and hands-on training.   


Personally, it was very enlightening to compare 's law enforcement with that when I was a police officer many years ago. None of the other participants in our class had a law enforcement background. They came away with a new appreciation about the local police.

Unfortunately, many businesses fail to recognize the importance of supporting their local Citizens Police Academy if they even have one. They may view it as a program that doesn't directly benefit their business. However, there are several compelling reasons why businesses should support their local Citizens Police Academy.

First and foremost, a Citizens Police Academy can improve public safety in the local community. By educating citizens about law enforcement practices, participants can become more aware of potential safety threats and how to prevent them. This can lead to a safer and more secure community, which can have a positive impact on local businesses. When people feel safe, they are more likely to go out and support local businesses, which can lead to increased sales and revenue.

Second, a Citizens Police Academy can improve community relations between law enforcement and . In recent years, there have been numerous high-profile incidents of police brutality and excessive force. These incidents have eroded public trust in law enforcement and created a divide between police and the communities they serve. By participating in a Citizens Police Academy, community members can gain a better understanding of law enforcement practices and build relationships with police . Also, it can show individual officers that the community cares. This can lead to increased trust and cooperation, which can benefit both law enforcement and local businesses.


Third, supporting the local Citizens Police Academy can be a way for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to the community. By sponsoring or donating to the program, businesses can show that they care about the safety and well-being of their customers and employees. This can enhance the reputation of the business and increase customer loyalty.

Finally, supporting the local Citizens Police Academy can be a way for businesses to give back to their community. Law enforcement is an essential public service that relies on the support of the community to function effectively. By supporting the local Citizens Police Academy, businesses can help ensure that law enforcement has the resources and support it needs to keep the community safe.

In conclusion, supporting the local citizens police academy is not only good for public safety but can also benefit businesses in the long run. By promoting community safety and building relationships with law enforcement, businesses can enhance their reputation and increase customer loyalty. Furthermore, by supporting law enforcement, businesses can give back to the community and ensure that it remains a safe and prosperous place to live and work.

If your community does not have a Citizens Police Academy and you would like to learn more, contact me at phil@philhardwick.com and I'll share more specific information.


The post Why businesses should support a Citizens Police Academy appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

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By: Phil Hardwick
Title: Why businesses should support a Citizens Police Academy

Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 15:00:00 +0000


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Long Beach Middle’s house system gives students unique life lessons



Community, purpose and responsibility are just some of the lessons for students.

To make the transition from elementary to secondary easier, a Mississippi school district's middle school is utilizing a unique system to give a sense of purpose, community and responsibility.

Long Beach Middle School's administration got the idea to implement the Ron Clark Academy House System after touring a private school where its successes were on display, said Principal Johanna Hughey.

Similar house have been implemented in other Mississippi school districts, with many of them at the elementary level.

In 2019, the RCA House System became part of the Long Beach Middle School. It works kind of like the house system in the fictional Harry Potter , but instead of a talking hat choosing the house, students pick a wrist band from a box. About 90 students are in each of the school's five houses.

“We want to create experiences for the students to look back on and think it was fun,” said Hughey.


Students are placed in their houses at the beginning of their 7th grade year and then participate in monthly meetings and house rallies each nine weeks.

Teachers and administrators are also assigned to a house for the duration of their career, establishing a sense of belonging for the children who are in the same house. As students walk the halls, they can identify a teacher's house by the small flags that adorn the door to each classroom.

Each house features a crest that defines that house's animal, color and words of pride.

English Language Arts Interventionist Mary Woodruff said most of the house names are Latin in origin, but some from other languages. House names include Paratum, Quantum, Mutunci, Fidum and Nitimini.


Similar to how houses work in the Harry Potter series, students earn points for their house through challenges, grades, events and behavior. Points can be earned for being on the honor roll, not being referred to the office for bad behavior and not having any unexcused absences, Guidance Counselor Lisa Starita said. The points system also allows the students see how their actions affect others, giving them a sense of community.

Houses also engage with the larger community through fundraisers or gathering donations for a cause. By giving them a sense of connection, students behave better and work harder.

“Students don't want to disappoint teachers they like,” Starita said.

Since the implementation of the house system student misbehavior has declined. In the first year it was implemented, office referrals dropped drastically.

Being in a house also allows every student to take on a leadership role. Woodruff said most house leaders she has seen are not the popular kids in school.


Even though the students only attend the middle school for 7th and 8th grades, they carry the connection built by the house system into high school.

“We say five houses, one , and that's what we mean,” said Starita.

While the high school does not officially participate in the house system, Woodruff said the graduating class that attended the middle school in 2019 will walk the halls of Long Beach Middle School wearing the house pins they were assigned years ago.

Initially, some expressed concern about the system. But through a modified open house called “Crash The House,” the parents were presented with the opportunity to see how the houses work, and how participation in the system can their child succeed in the school. “Crash The House” lasts longer than a regular open house, because the puts parents in the same houses as their children before sending them on a tour of the school. During the tour parents visit stations where they meet teachers and learn about each house from the school's students.


, it's been accepted by the adults so well that they buy multiple house shirts for their children and themselves, Starita said.

The post Long Beach Middle's house system gives students unique life lessons appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

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By: Jeremy Pittari
Title: Long Beach Middle's house system gives students unique lessons

Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 14:35:23 +0000

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