Saints Report: Prime Opportunity Waste in Primetime for Saints

126 views – Jeff Haeger – 2022-11-08 15:38:14

After last week’s shutout win over the Raiders, it as if the Saints had gotten their swagger back, but Monday night’s primetime loss tells a different story.

The Saints coming in just one win away from their 400th regular season victory in franchise history, but number 400 is gonna have to wait at least one more week as the Ravens dominate the Saints in every facet of the game.

The 27-13 final score, somewhat concerning obviously, but even more concerning, some of the things you find in the box score like five punts, to Taysom Hill just carrying…

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Mississippi election: Vote Tuesday on U.S. House, judicial posts


Election Day: Mississippi votes Tuesday on U.S. House, judicial posts

Four congressional races and a bevy of local judicial elections throughout the will be on the ballot Tuesday for Mississippi voters. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The 2022 mid-term elections have been closely watched nationally as Republicans try to wrestle control of the U.S. House and Senate from Democrats. In many states, early turnout has been high.

But that is not the case in Mississippi, where no U.S. Senate race will occur and where all four U.S. House races are expected to be won by incumbents or major party favorites. According to data from Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office, the number of absentee ballots requested and returned in Mississippi has been low to past elections.

As of Monday morning, according to Watson’s office, 51,849 absentee ballots had been requested and 46,120 had been completed and returned. During the same period in 2020, 248,335 absentee ballots had been requested and 231,031 had been returned to local election officials.

Unlike a vast majority of states, Mississippi does not allow no-excuse early voting. In Mississippi, those over the age of 65, people who are disabled and those who will be traveling on Election Day can vote early in their local circuit clerk’s office or by mail. But those voting by mail must, in many cases, obtain two notary public signatures to complete the process.

Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and returned to the local circuit clerk’s office within five days of the election.

The incumbents in the four congressional races are all heavy favorites to win re-election.

Mississippi congressional races

• 1st District incumbent Republican Trent faces Democrat Dianne Dodson Black, an Olive Branch small business owner. She is the first African American woman to serve as a major party nominee in the district in the modern era. Kelly, a former district attorney in northeast Mississippi, was first elected in a 2015 special election.

• 2nd District incumbent Democrat Bennie Thompson faces Republican Brian Flowers of Clinton. Flowers, a Navy veteran, works in mechanical planning at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant near Port Gibson. Thompson is Mississippi’s longest serving U.S. House member and chairs the Homeland Security Committee and the special committee that is looking at efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

• 3rd District incumbent Republican Michael Guest, a former district attorney in Madison and Rankin counties, is being challenged by Democrat Shuwaski Young of Neshoba County. Young is running for office for the first time, but has experience working in the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office and in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Guest was first elected in 2018.

• Republican Mike Ezell faces off against Democrat Johnny DuPree in the 4th District. Libertarian Alden Patrick Johnson also is on the ballot. Ezell, the sheriff of , defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo earlier this year in the GOP primary. DuPree, former mayor of Hattiesburg, has also unsuccessfully for governor and secretary of state. In 2011, DuPree became the first African American major party nominee for governor.

The ballot also will include judicial races. Four Mississippi Court of Appeals races are on the ballot. In the only contested Court of Appeals race, incumbent 4th District Judge Virginia Carlton is being challenged by Bruce Burton.

READ MORE: Young confident in 3rd District U.S House seat despite incumbent Guest being heavy favorite

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Report shows learning loss for Mississippi kids


New report shows learning losses for Mississippi students at district level, indicating wide disparities

Mississippi students have lost three-quarters of a school year in math instruction since the start of the pandemic, according to a new report released last week. 

The Education Recovery Scorecard, produced by researchers at Harvard and Stanford, looks at learning loss at the district level across the country using a combination of and national test scores. 

Every state is required to administer annual standardized tests, but the results cannot be easily because they are not required to test for the same content or use the same grading scale. To prepare the report, researchers took state test data from 29 states and standardized the scoring systems using the results from the 2022 National Assessment for Educational Progress.

The report measured learning loss in terms of the percentage of a school year that students are behind, compared to the amount of learning that would typically occur during a single school year. 

READ MORE: Mississippi students see decline in reading and math on national exam

Nationally, the study found the average student lost the equivalent of half a year of math instruction and a quarter of a year in reading. In Mississippi, it was three-quarters of a year of math instruction and a quarter of a year in reading. 

Kane, director of the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, said the goal was to give educators and parents nationally comparable information about learning loss in their local district.

The interactive graphs in the report show no districts in Mississippi surpassed their 2019 performance in math or reading, but the severity of achievement loss varied widely by district.

Credit: Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University

“This is a large increase in educational inequity,” Kane said in reference to the graph of changes in math achievement in Mississippi. “It’s not just saying ‘High poverty districts have always scored lower than low poverty districts.’ This is saying that those gaps, which existed in 2019, have gotten a lot wider.” 

He added most states saw this pattern, but varied in the degree to which they widened. 

Since 90% of federal pandemic relief funds are being spent at the district level, Kane said it was important to have high quality district-level data to inform those spending decisions. 

“What we hope is that states and districts will use these data to revisit their recovery plans,” Kane said. “The districts that lost more than a year’s worth of instruction should be thinking ‘Do we have enough tutoring, double doses of math instruction, (and) summer school to make up for these losses?’”

The magnitude of federal recovery dollars currently available gives him hope that these learning losses can be adequately addressed, Kane said, if districts are willing to make adjustments now that they know the full scope of their losses. 

READ MORE: How much pandemic relief funds has your school district spent?

Kane added that these results should be alarming not just for educators, but for mayors and community organizations that can also play a role in helping students catch up. He pointed out that the learning losses are likely not the result exclusively of what happened in schools, but of many other community factors like broadband connectivity, hospitalization rates, and whether parents were able to work from home. 

“It won’t be just what schools do or don’t do that determine whether or not Mississippi students catch up,” he said. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Some leaders ignore health care woes at Hobnob Mississippi


State’s health care woes ignored by some, but not all at annual Hobnob

“Only positive Mississippi spoken here,” a phrase coined by former Gov. Kirk Fordice, was the theme for the most part of the politicians at the annual Hobnob event sponsored by the state’s Economic Council.

But two politicians – Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney – devoted much of their speech at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob to the state’s troubled system and the financial difficulties that many of the state’s hospitals are facing.

“Would you locate (a business) in a state that you don’t have health care?” Chaney asked of the crowd of about 1,000 primarily business leaders gathered at the Mississippi Coliseum to hear from the state’s political leadership. “I don’t think you would.”

Hosemann said the Senate would be looking at health care issues during the upcoming session. He also said the legislative leadership should not be scared away from efforts to improve health care by “that X word.”

Hosemann was presumably referring to expansion where, through primarily federal funds, the state could provide health care for about 200,000 poor , mostly people who work in jobs that do not offer health insurance. Hospitals have argued that expanding Medicaid like 38 other states have done would help them financially.

At the very least, the lieutenant governor said the state should extend Medicaid coverage for mothers from 60 days after giving birth to one year.

“How can we not be pro-life and pro-child at the same time?” asked Hosemann. “That does not make sense to me.”

While not definitively endorsing Medicaid expansion, Hosemann has said the state should look for the most efficient and inexpensive way to improve health care access in the state. Many argue that expanding Medicaid with the federal government paying most of the costs would be the best way to do that.

Chaney told reporters after the speech he supported Medicaid expansion and that he believes Hosemann does, too. But passing Medicaid expansion will be difficult with both Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn in opposition.

Reeves kept his speech positive, not mentioning health care at all.

But after the speech, he reiterated to reporters his opposition to Medicaid expansion.

“I remain opposed to expanding Obamacare in Mississippi …” Reeves said. “No doubt we’ve seen certain health care institutions in our state and across the country struggling, due to leadership decisions that were made in those specific instances. The pandemic certainly didn’t make it any easier.”

Reeves said a solution to Mississippi’s dire health care issues is doing away with the state’s certificate of need (CON) requirements. CON laws regulate approval of major projects or expansions for health care facilities, aiming to control health care costs by reducing duplicative services and restricting where new facilities can be built and operated. Mississippi and 34 other states have varying CON laws.

Reeves said this thwarts competition, and “competition tends to drive down costs.”

“For instance, the doesn’t have to adhere to CON rules, but everyone else does,” Reeves said. “That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Opponents of removing the CON process say they fear it would result in even fewer hospitals and other health care facilities in poor and underpopulated areas.

On other topics, Reeves said Mississippi is in historically great financial shape and vowed to continue to push to eliminate the state’s personal income tax.

“You have my word that as long as I’m governor I will never stop fighting to fully eliminate the income tax in Mississippi,” Reeves said. He said this will make the state more competitive for economic development with Texas, Florida and Tennessee – states that have no personal income tax.

“Mississippi in virtually every category is climbing the national ladder,” Reeves said. He said the state has seen a record $3.5 billion in capital investment so far this year with “more capital investment in 2022 than we saw in the five years previous to me becoming governor.” He said the state has made great gains in K-12 education, including increasing the graduation rate from 72% to 88.5% during his time in office, now above the national average of 86.5%.

Reeves vowed to push for “good jobs with above-average wages,” and quoted from his first state-of-the-state address: “At the end of my time as governor, we will measure our success in the wages of our workers.”

According to a recent U.S. Census report, Mississippi has the nation’s lowest median household income at $46,511, to $67,521 nationally. Mississippi also has the highest poverty rate, with 18.8% of people living at or below the poverty level.

Chaney spent much of his speech criticizing both the University of Mississippi Medical Center and for their inability to settle their contract dispute, which is impacting tens of thousands of Mississippians. People insured through Blue Cross have been out of network with UMMC since April 1.

“Both parties in this dispute are wrong,” Chaney said. “UMMC is asking for too much, and Blue Cross can give more.”

Chaney later told reporters that he believes the dispute could be settled, though, in the coming days.

Chaney said UMMC is “using (patients) as pawns for a money grab … On the other side Blue Cross is not right, either.”

The Republican insurance commissioner also told the crowd that UMMC has written a letter to a Medicaid managed care company demanding a higher reimbursement rate. If UMMC is not included in the network for the managed care company, this could impact health care for many of the Mississippians covered through Medicaid.

There are three companies – Magnolia, United and Molina – that have managed care contracts with the Mississippi Division of Medicaid. Under the contracts, the companies provide health care services for the Medicaid patients at a set rate paid to them by the state. Under that process, the companies reimburse the health care providers for the services provided to Medicaid recipients.

In response to Chaney’s comments, Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for Clinical Affairs told Mississippi Today: “In the course of normal business operations, all health care institutions enter discussions with payor partners about new or current contracts, sometimes several months before the end of a current agreement. These routine engagements are necessary to ensure contracts meet the needs of our patients who are their health plan members.

He added, “Currently, we are in normal contract-related discussions with Magnolia Health Plan on the agreement that covers UMMC care provided to their managed Medicaid health plan members. Our intent is that these standardized discussions will soon yield a new agreement and we will continue our strong partnership with Magnolia and health care relationship with their members.”

Chaney also predicted that efforts to negotiate a lease agreement between the Greenwood LeFlore Hospital and UMMC would be unsuccessful and that the financially troubled hospital would close, negatively impacting health care throughout the Delta.

Chaney said the state’s health care issues must be solved if the state is to prosper.

Also speaking were Auditor Shad White, Secretary of State Michael Watson, Attorney General Lynn Fitch, House Speaker Philip Gunn, Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson and Treasurer David McRae.

Gipson, wearing his cowboy hat, sang a portion of the song “A Country Boy Can Survive” before praising the work of Mississippi farmers.

Watson, who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate at some point – perhaps even against Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary – said, of next year’s election, “We need leaders who care more about Mississippi than their careers. I hope you help me elect those folks.”

While not being specific, Watson referenced some “tough times” possibly ahead for the state in terms of health care.

White said that as auditor, he gets to “look under the hood of Mississippi government,” and see what works and what doesn’t. He said the state’s workforce is the biggest issue he sees, and he offered four ideas to improve it.

“First, an earned income tax credit,” White said. “If you go from unemployed to employed, you get a tax cut … 29 other states have this … It’s one of the best things to get people off the couch and off the sidelines and working … There are some folks who want to just hand a bunch of money to poor people. That is not going to juice our .”

White said the state should use its federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money – the source of a major fraud and misspending case White’s office uncovered – to fund the tax credits, as 20 other states do.

“Second, we’ve got to address brain drain,” White said. “From 2015-2019 we spent $1.5 to $2 billion on higher education, and we only kept 50% of the graduates in Mississippi.”

White said his office has a fellowship program that helps cover tuition for future auditors, provided they stay with his office for two years. He said this could be replicated for other professions statewide.

“Third, fatherlessness,” White said. He said too many children are growing up in broken homes and are not prepared to succeed when they become adults. He said, “There are all sorts of social maladies from not having engaged fathers in the home.” White said the Junior ROTC program in Jackson is an example of a program that helps with this issue – with retired military people mentoring youth. He said the program at JPS has a “100% graduation rate.”

Fourth, White said, “is the city of Jackson.”

“Jackson is our number-one talent magnet in this state,” White said, “with 30% of our graduates coming to work in Hinds County.”

He said, “Jackson’s magnet is going to turn off unless we learn how to collect the garbage, keep the water clean and not be the per-capita homicide leader in the country.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Hear the Pascagoula River Singing This October


by Cherie Ward, Our Mississippi Home

Of all the rivers throughout the United States, none are as intriguing as the river that sings in — especially in October.

The Pascagoula River, or the , actually hums like a swarm of bees dancing on gentle notes from a wooden flute, according to those lucky enough to have heard it. The intoxicating sound has also been to the delicate sounds and echos of rubbing the rim of a crystal glass filled with water or wine.

For hundreds of years, the mysterious music has intrigued both locals and Gulf Coast visitors alike, and the changing days of October are said to be the best times to hear the Pascagoula River sing. The humming is at its most vibrant and loudest from mid-October through Halloween. According to those who have witnessed it, all you need to…

This article first on Our Mississippi Home.

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Data Dive: Mississippi’s TANF Work Program expenditures 2015-2022


Data Dive: Mississippi’s TANF Work Program expenditures 2015-2022

Editor’s Note: Public reports regarding the ’s administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program give little detail as to how Mississippi uses the $86.5 million in federal grant funds it is allocated each year. To provide a deeper look at the spending, Mississippi Today pulled and analyzed all expenditures from 2015-2022 labeled “TANF Work Program” from the state’s public accounting database, called MAGIC, available through the state’s Transparency website. The organization also analyzed all federal financial reports for the program from 2015-2020.

There are several caveats to the data, but as lawmakers and policy experts research ways to improve this program’s operations, Mississippi Today is releasing the entirety of the data for the public’s use. If you have any questions or comments about the data, please email Anna Wolfe at For a downloadable PDF version of this report, click here.

Attempts by officials to quantify the misspending within the “Mississippi welfare scandal” appear in two main reports.

But the purchases they examined make up just a fraction of the state’s total welfare spending — leaving millions in spending a mystery to the public.

The state auditor’s 2019 Single Audit found misspending of $98 million in funds from the Mississippi Department of Human Services — the bulk of which were funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, but also included other federal grants: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Care Development Funds (CCDF) and Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). The 2019 Single Audit is an annual report that examined spending in just that one year but extended into previous years in some cases, such as if the grant was a multi-year agreement.

MDHS commissioned a separate forensic audit that covered four calendar years, 2016-2019, and examined TANF spending exclusively. That report found misspending of $77 million. In the four fiscal years 2016-2020, Mississippi spent $317 million in federal TANF dollars.

In both cases, auditors questioned payments for multiple reasons — because the purchases didn’t comply with federal grant regulations, they constituted a conflict of interest or simply because they didn’t contain supporting documentation.

The primary difference in findings between the two reports comes from the fact the state Single Audit reviewed more grant spending than just TANF, and that the forensic audit attempted to comprehensively cover a four-year period. Other documents that help quantify the scandal include the initial indictments against six individuals in 2020, which alleged the of $4.15 million, and the civil suit MDHS is bringing against 38 individuals or companies, which alleges the defendants improperly received roughly $24 million.

Almost all of the identified DHS and TANF misspending occurred through subgrants that MDHS issued to outside organizations.

MDHS says it is addressing this by strengthening its internal controls and subgrantee monitoring. In late 2019 after the auditor’s investigation began, MDHS reinstituted a “Request for Proposals (RFP)” process for awarding TANF subgrants — a process the agency had not used since 2012, according to public records retrieved by Mississippi Today. The stricter rules have resulted in far fewer TANF dollars going out to service providers across the state.

The TANF program, a federal block grant to states, is best known for providing cash assistance — referred to as the “welfare check” — to very poor families. But the program gives states broad flexibility to spend the money in the ways they think will reduce or prevent poverty. Federal law does not require these the state to spend the money on evidence-based programs or to achieve specific desired outcomes. Across the country, states spend 80% of the money on things other than direct aid, on programs they call workforce training, child care, child welfare, out-of-wedlock pregnancy prevention and fatherhood. Most of these services are provided by organizations who vie for TANF subgrants to do the work.

But these grants do not make up the entirety of the TANF program in Mississippi.

The federal government allocates $86.5 million in federal TANF funds to Mississippi each year.

Unspent funds may roll over to the next year. In any given year, the state may be spending federal funds from previous grant years. The state must also put up a state match. Historically, the state has reported its college scholarship program as the bulk of its TANF state match.

From 2015 to 2022, Mississippi pushed about $156 million to subgrantees under the TANF Work Program, according to a Mississippi Today review of public expenditures, but that’s less than 40% of the roughly $418 million in federal TANF funds the state reported spending during those years. Just $36.5 million, less than 9%, went to cash assistance, per federal reports. So where did the rest go?

Using data from the state’s public accounting database, Mississippi Today found that between 2015 and 2022, MDHS spent more than $40 million on “Contractual Services” labeled under the “TANF Work Program.” This spending rose dramatically during the time of the corruption, from $162,077 in 2015 to $6.4 million in 2016 and $8.4 million in 2017. The agency has since quelled this spending since the scandal broke, reducing contractual services to $1.6 million in 2022.

Mississippi Today analyzed all expenditures labeled “TANF Work Program” under “Functional Area” in the state’s public accounting database, MAGIC, available through the state’s Transparency website, in state fiscal years 2015 to 2022.

Payments made under TANF subgrants — the subject of ongoing criminal investigations — are labeled under “TANF Work Program” and are reflected in the following figures.

There are some caveats to the data. Mississippi Department of Human Services told Mississippi Today that not all purchases made with federal TANF funds, such as cash assistance payments, are labeled this way and not all are retrievable through the state’s public accounting database. Additionally, some limited other grants are “charged” to the TANF Work Program, MDHS said, so these expenditures could reflect other grant spending. For these reasons, the agency said it would be impossible to compile an accounting of federal TANF funds using publicly facing data.

Sept. 19, 2022 email from MDHS:
6.) Generally, how can I match up the funding categories in the ACF reports with expenditures from the state? 

You can't. Federal reporting requires cost collection fields from MAGIC that are not available in Transparency. 

At the bottom of this report is Mississippi Today’s full list of questions to MDHS and the agency’s answers. While recognizing imperfections with the data, Mississippi Today the TANF expenditures available in the public database to the TANF expenditures Mississippi reported in financial reports to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as a rough overview. State and federal fiscal years differ by about three months, so annual totals are not a perfect comparison. Additionally, the federal reports are typically behind by two years, so the most recent available federal ACF report is for the year 2020. Mississippi reported the highest expenditures of TANF funds on record in 2018, during the height of the welfare scandal.

Mississippi spent anywhere from $17 million (2020) to $52 million (2018) each year under TANF subgrants to outside organizations, according to Mississippi Today’s analysis of expenditures labeled under the “expense items” called “Grantor Payments Nontaxable” and “Transfer to Subgrantee” in MAGIC.

This spending is the primary subject of state audits and independent forensic audits conducted in the last two years. Mississippi Today’s analysis of MAGIC data shows Mississippi paid the two “Families First for Mississippi” nonprofits at the center of the scandal, Mississippi Community Education Center and Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, $55.8 million and $41.4 million in TANF funds, respectively, from 2015 to 2020. The two nonprofits did not receive any TANF funds in 2021 or 2022. Because of missing documentation, auditors say there are still roughly $40 million in purchases from MCEC that have not be examined.

The nonprofits are listed as “Vendors” in MAGIC. TANF subgrantees aren’t the only vendors who receive payments labeled “TANF Work Program” under “Functional Area” in the state expenditure database. Other governmental divisions, consulting firms, tech companies, accountants, a law firm and hotels are also some of the vendors that receive payments labeled “TANF Work Program.”

After MCEC and FRC, the next 20 highest paid “Vendors” for expenditures labeled “TANF Work Program” from 2015-2022 were Mississippi Alliance of Boys & Girls Club ($29.5 million), SPAHRS Payroll & Travel ($21.7 million), Jobs Bank Account ($7 million), Mississippi State University – MAFES ($6.1 million), Department of Employment Security ($5.8 million), Cambria Solutions Inc. ($5.2 million), Institutions of Higher Learning ($5 million), University of Mississippi-Accounting Office ($4.9 million), Midtown Partners ($3.8 million), Community College Board ($3.7 million), Mississippi State University ($3.7 million), Mississippi Children’s Home Society ($3.5 million), YMCA Association Metro Jackson ($2.8 million), Mississippi State University ($2.8 million), Three Rivers Planning & Development District ($2.8 million), Save the Children Federation ($2.6 million), Jobs for Mississippi Graduates ($2.4 million), Heart of David Ministry ($2.1 million), Mississippi State University ($2 million), Boys & Girls Club of Central Mississippi ($2 million). Some vendors, like Mississippi State University, have several vendor profiles in the state’s accounting database, which is why they may appear multiple times.

Payments of $62,727 to Pigott Law Firm, the private firm MDHS hired to bring the civil suit against people who improperly received welfare funds, were labeled under “TANF Work Program” in 2022.

The Office of the State Auditor also received payments labeled under “TANF Work Program” in 2018 ($137,568.67), 2019 ($276,997.26), 2020 ($420,692.81), 2021 ($420,692.81) and 2022 ($394,184.70). The office did not receive any of these payments from 2015-2017.

According to the ACF spending reports Mississippi sent to the federal government, the state spent a total of $104.4 million in federal TANF funds in 2018 and $55.1 million in 2020.

Comparing total spending to the subgrantee payments, the state spent $52 million in 2018 and $38 million in 2020 on things other than subgrants to outside organizations.

The state spent $6.1 million and $3.7 million in those years on direct cash assistance to needy families.

The ACF spending reports includes payments labeled “Child Welfare Services” — $20.8 million in 2018 and $21.8 million in 2020. Mississippi Department of Human Services confirmed it has been using a large chunk of its TANF fund to supplement the budget of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, the agency tasked with overseeing the state’s foster care system and investigating child abuse and neglect. The agency has not stated how these dollars are utilized at CPS — whether they are used on salaries for caseworkers, for example, or on contracts with family unification agencies.

MDHS says it is currently awarding subgrants of $34.5 million each TANF grant year, spending $4.1 million on cash assistance and transferring $30 million to child welfare, leaving about $18 million in additional available federal funds on the table.

While MDHS said it spent $62.3 million in TANF funds in 2022, expenditures in the public database only reflect expenditures labeled “TANF Work Program” totaling $21.9 million. It explained that the remainder, $40.4 million, reflects payments that are not retrievable through Transparency, such as the payments to child protection services. To explain what this additional spending would be, MDHS only gave the example of cash assistance payments — which they said total $4.1 million — and “work related expenses on behalf of our clients.” MDHS did not provide any more information about how it spends the money.

2015-2020 ACF and MAGIC comparison

In federal ACF spending reports from 2015 to 2020, Mississippi reported spending $418 million in federal TANF funds. For this analysis, Mississippi Today only looked at expenditures, excluding transfers of TANF funds to the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) or Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which have also varied greatly from year to year.

Of the $418 million, $115 million was reportedly spent on “Child Welfare Services” — likely reflecting the transfers to CPS. It does not appear these transfers are reflected in expenditures labeled “TANF Work Program” in MAGIC. Excluding the transfers to child welfare, Mississippi reported spending $303 million in federal TANF funds from 2012-2020. The state’s public accounting database only reflects TANF spending of $221 million, leaving around $80 million in TANF funds that cannot be identified in the state’s public accounting database.

MDHS told Mississippi Today that cash assistance payments to TANF clients are not available in the state’s public accounting database. Mississippi reported to ACF spending $36.5 million between 2015-2020 on basic cash assistance, leaving at least $45.5 million in additional TANF spending during those years a mystery to the public.

According to interviews, MDHS began offering $250-a-month transportation stipends to TANF clients in the mid-2000s, but this spending is not broken down or identifiable in either the ACF reports or on Transparency, according to MDHS. It’s unclear how much this service is offered today.

When Mississippi Today requested from MDHS in May 2020 all TANF expenditures for fiscal year 2020, the agency provided two spreadsheets with information from the state’s accounting database. The spreadsheet of payments to vendors are coded as “TANF Work Program” under “Functional Area” — similar to what is available on Transparency — and contained the same kinds of vendors analyzed here. A separate spreadsheet contained the “EPAY” data — “EBT – Family Assistance,” “Children Assistance,” and “Other Assistance” — that is not retrievable by pulling “TANF Work Program” expenditures on Transparency. For a roughly seven-month period, the total issued through EPAY was about $4 million. That included roughly $1.3 million labeled as transportation — “PAY TR TRANS”, “PAY TRANSPORT” and “TRANS NOT WORK.”

“Expense Type & Item” comparison 2015-2022

A comparison of the “Expense Type” and “Expense Item” of “TANF Work Program” expenditures in MAGIC from year to year shows a large variation in program operations.

From 2016-2020, the largest payments to subgrantees were labeled in the “Transfer to Subgrantee” category. Today, the state is recording the bulk of these payments not as “Transfer to Subgrantee” but as “Grantor Payments Nontaxable.” For the purpose of this analysis, Mississippi Today is combining and considering both “Transfer to Subgrantee” and “Grantor Payments Nontaxable” — which, according to Mississippi Today’s review, typically go to TANF subgrantee organizations — as TANF subgrant payments.

TANF subgrants recorded in MAGIC have declined from $52 million in 2018 to $15.7 million in 2022, which tracks with the state cutting funding to MCEC and FRC in 2020, as well as imposing stricter requirements on TANF subgrants. Similarly, the state isn’t spending as much on contractual services ($8 million in 2018 versus $1.6 million in 2022) or on travel ($367,767 in 2019 versus $15,864 in 2022).

Salaries and wages for the program, however, have increased significantly since the scandal occurred.

In 2016, when John Davis became director and began moving to privatize functions of the agency, such as the child support enforcement division, salaries under the TANF program decreased from $5.3 million in 2015 to $1 million in 2016. While there wasn’t an acknowledgement the agency was “privatizing” the welfare program, MDHS began relying more and more on employees of the private “Families First” nonprofits to perform agency functions. The nonprofits were hiring away former employees of MDHS, but officials like Davis treated the state agency and private nonprofits as one in the same. Since the scandal broke and Families First shuttered, salaries charged under TANF have increased from less than $1 million in 2019 to nearly $2.5 million in 2022.

MDHS explained that during the time of the scandal, "additional funding was available from another source" to pay for salaries associated with the TANF Work Program and that when that funding ended, the salaries were charged back to TANF.

Vendors under the TANF Work Program 2022

MDHS paid 81 vendors a total of $21.9 million under the "TANF Work Program" in 2022. From 2015-2022, MDHS paid nearly 400 different vendors. The table below includes all the vendors who received at least $1,000 under the “TANF Work Program" from 2015-2022.

Current TANF subgrantees

According to a spreadsheet MDHS provided Mississippi Today, the agency awarded $36.7 million worth of TANF subgrants for the 2021 grant year. The agency has not awarded grants for 2022, which has ended. Based on the dollar amount spent in each category, it appears MDHS is placing more priority on workforce development ($14.9 million) and after school programs ($13.7 million) than parenting initiatives ($8.1 million), which was the primary function of Families First for Mississippi.

There is not a public-facing repository of information or data regarding the efficacy or outcomes of these programs.

Below are the answers MDHS provided Mississippi Today regarding data retrieval from Transparency. For several of the questions, MDHS did not provide a response.

MS TODAY questions (italics) and answers (bold) provided by MDHS on Sept. 19, 2022:

I looked at every expenditure in MAGIC labeled “TANF” in the “Functional Area” category. Here are the total expenditures in MAGIC from 2015-2022: 2015 ($12,929,221.02), 2016 ($26,406,682.63), 2017 ($42,461,946.71), 2018 ($63,755,024.00), 2019 ($48,772,637.14), 2020 ($26,406,682.63), 2021 ($18,780,281.73), 2022 ($21,869,598.21).
The amounts in MAGIC are far lower than the amount of TANF we reported spending to the feds. I realize MAGIC uses state fiscal year and the ACF reports are probably by federal fiscal year, but that wouldn’t account for the drastic differences between the total amounts labeled TANF in MAGIC and the figures we report to the feds. ACF “Federal Funds – Total Expenditures” highlighted next to the MAGIC figures below:
2015: $12,929,221.02 ($46,124,884)
2016: $26,406,682.63 ($49,844,769)
2017: $42,461,946.71 ($83,633,112)
2018: $63,755,024.00 ($104,424,460)
2019: $48,772,637.14 ($79,221,691)
2020: $26,406,682.63 ($55,119,534)
The ACF reports are very outdated, which is why it’s been so hard to look at current spending in the last two years. When the scandal broke in early 2020, the most recent report was from 2018. But in all the expenditure reports/subgrantee data I’ve gathered from the agency over the years, I’ve never seen enough to add up to the totals we report to the feds.
I know we transfer a good bit from TANF to CPS every year, so I even accounted for that in my analysis, in case those inter-agency transfers don’t appear on MAGIC.
The figures below are the ACF “Total Expenditures” minus “Child Welfare” (which I’m guessing are the CPS transfers — although the amounts under “Child Welfare” in the ACF reports, ranging from $12m to $27m, are still less than what CPS recently told me they get from TANF every year):
2015: $29,277,558
2016: $33,777,260
2017: $70,774,040
2018: $83,666,783
2019: $52,133,231
2020: $33,363,256
Comparing the amount of federal TANF dollars (minus “child welfare”) we reported spending to the federal government and the amount of TANF expenditures available on MAGIC, the difference is still as much as $28 million in some years.
1.) How do TANF Expenditures appear on MAGIC? 
TANF Expenditures are captured in MAGIC using a system assigned Grant Number. 
 2.) Are all purchases made with TANF funds labeled as TANF in "Functional Area"? 
No. A functional area represents an organizational division within the agency, and not a grant. 
 3.) If not why? 
TANF expenditures may be charged to other organizational divisions, and would not appear in the TANF Work Program Functional Area. For example; TANF Assistance payments are charged to the "Assistance Payments" functional area. 
 4.) And how would I be able to view TANF expenditures then? 
The public view on the Transparency Web Site does not provide the Grant Number / Description therefore you will not be {able }to categorically identify TANF specific charges using Transparency. 
 5.) If a purchase is labeled TANF under "Functional Area" does that mean it was funded with TANF funds? 
No, there are other Grants that are charged to this functional area. For example, Sexual Risk Avoidance Grant charges appear under this functional area also.  
6.) Generally, how can I match up the funding categories in the ACF reports with expenditures from the state? 
You can't. Federal reporting requires cost collection fields from MAGIC that are not available in Transparency. 
7.) How do TANF cash assistance payouts appear in MAGIC? 
TANF Assistance payments are charged to the "Assistance Payments" functional area, using a Special Fund Type called a Bank Account Fund. Expenditures charged to this fund type are not available in Transparency.  
8.) The most recent federal caseload data suggest we may be bulking up the cash assistance side of the program, but where is that reflected in agency spending/expenditure reports? 
See answer to #7 
9.) There is a category in MAGIC called "EBT-Family Assistance" but take a look at the totals in this category for each year:
2015: $0
2016: $0
2017: $0
2018: -$27,223
2019: -$121,654.16
2020: $0
2021: $0
2022: $1,955,000
a. Surely some people received cash assistance in these years, I hope, so why does this category in MAGIC appear so low? 
If Transparency provided visibility of the Bank Account Fund type, then we would see assistance payments appear under this Commitment Item. (See also answer to #7) The "EBT-Family Assistance" Commitment Item is a category that we charge both SNAP and TANF assistance payments to. However, you are not seeing the payments, you are only seeing some relatively immaterial adjustments made through Journal Entries which are being charged to the MDHS Grant Fund. 
b. What do these figures, especially the negative figures mean? 
As stated above, you are not seeing the payments, you are only seeing some adjustments made through Journal Entries which appear in the Grant Fund. 
c. Why did it jump so drastically in 2022? 
The $1.9 million in 2022 were expenditures for the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund (PEAF), which was a new federal grant, and not a part of our normal payments to clients. 
10.) What are the payments to the vendor JOBS BANK ACCOUNT? 
The "Jobs Bank Account" is a checking account and is primarily used to pay work related expenses on behalf of our clients. We deposit funds into this account and then write checks to cover the work related expenses. It is also used as a clearing account to wire funds to the vendor who handles TANF Assistance Payments and TANF Work Programs. 
11.) What are these Jobs Bank Account Payments, who gets them, and why did the amount vary so drastically between 2020, 2021 and 2022? The amount jumped from just $685.75 in 2021 to $2 million in 2022? What explains this? 
See answer to question 9.a. and 9.c. The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund ($1.9M) payments moved through the JOBS BANK ACCOUNT, hence the increase for 2022. 
12.) What is the "EBT-Family Assistance - 67090000" and "Children Assistance - 67055000" and why are the amounts so low?  We spent just $80 on Children Assistance in 2022, compared to $1.4 million in 2015. 
"EBT-Family Assistance - 67090000": See answer 9.a. 
"Children Assistance - 67055000: See answer to 9.a.
The amounts for 2015 are payments to clients through the JOBS Bank Account using State Funds for transitional transportation. Typically this is paid for from TANF Federal dollars, but in 2015 State Funds were needed for the TANF Maintenance of Effort. It was necessary to move these funds to the JOBS Bank Account, from sources that didn't involve the Bank Account Fund, and these fund sources appear in Transparency. 
13.) I don't see anything in MAGIC that appears to represent the $250 transportation vouchers that MDHS offers. Where are the transportation vouchers reflected in agency spending? 
These expenditures are found in the Bank Account Fund, see answer #7. 
14.) My next question is about the administrative side of TANF. In the expenses labeled "TANF" in MAGIC, the "Salaries & Fringe Benefits" category has changed drastically over the years - from $5 million in 2015 to less than $1 million in 2019 to now up to nearly $2.5 million in 2022. 

During the timeframe where there was a decrease in the use of TANF funds for Salaries & Fringe Benefits, additional funding was available from another source. When this funding ended some of the salaries migrated back to TANF. 
a. What does this mean for the TANF program? 
b. Who are these employees and what are they doing? 
c. The amount of TANF going to payroll in 2022 has more than doubled since 2019, but is half the amount in 2015. What is the ideal size of the program staff? 
15.) MDHS used to spend between $10,000 and $140,000 in TANF funds on equipment every year, but we haven't spent any on equipment in 2021 and 2022. Our TANF commodities and travel spending has similarly declined.
a. How was this spending quelled? What has been the effect on the agency or program? 
b. Ideally should any TANF funds be used on hotels, food, office furniture, etc.? 
c. We still spend some of the money this way. Is that allowed and under what circumstances? 
16.) Contractual services, and especially professional fees, have declined significantly as well. Did current MDHS leadership find these contracts unnecessary? Or were they moved to a different division in the agency? 
17.) "Transfer to Subgrantee" vs. "Grantor Payments Nontaxable"

The Department of Finance and Administration required that the agency change the General Ledger Accounting Codes used when making payments to our subgrantees resulting in the expenditures appearing under different Commitment Items. 
18.) I assume we're spending a lot less on subgrants because of what happened, but how does the agency plan to rectify this moving forward so that the money is being pushed out to valuable services across the state?
Should be answered by the program 
19.) Who are the following vendors and/or what are they doing for the TANF program 
Mississippi Children's Home Society ($2.8 million) 
Institutions of Higher Learning ($1.6 million) 
Dept. of Employment Security ($677,000) 
Community College Board ($500,000) 
Guidesoft Inc. ($348,000) 
Strategic Solutions for Families ($145,000) 
United Family Life Center ($83,000) 
Rose of Sharon ($77,000) 
SASSI Institute ($49,500) (I know this is the drug testing vendor, but I don't see it as a vendor in every year, so I'm curious about that. Also, I thought clients had to pay to get drug tested? Do taxpayers also pay for this?)
Georgia Department of Human Services ($24,700) 
Deer Oaks EAP Services ($8,850) (This is the Division's share of the Employee Assistance Program, and is an employee benefit not a client assistance payment.) 
Med Screens ($1,900) 
Random small payments to various county boards of supervisors. 
20.) Again, we spent just $21.9 million, according to MAGIC, in 2022 on the TANF program, which is a $86.5 million-a-year program. How is that possible?
The $21.9 million is understated, and the actual amount for State FY 2022 was $62.3M. See answers to questions 1-3 & 7 for an explanation of why these expenditures would not be showing up in Transparency under the TANF Work Program 
21.) Generally, what does MDHS hope to see for the TANF program in the future? Mississippi has so much more federal money for this program than we're currently spending. How does the state plan to best utilize these funds moving forward? 
22.) Also, recent caseload data shows there were 256 adult recipients on TANF in November 2021, then 1,809 in December 2021 (the month Mississippi offered $1,000 bonuses to TANF recipients), then 166 in January 2022. How did that happen? How were that many more applicants able to qualify (for a program with such strict eligibility) and why did they fall off the rolls so fast? 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson water: Congress calls for probe of spending


Lumumba, Reeves continue to point fingers as Congress calls for probe of Jackson water spending

About a month from a unified effort to lift Jackson out of its water crisis, city and officials continue to trade public jabs, with the future of the water system on the line.

Meanwhile, the federal government is now tackling the crisis on multiple fronts, with members of Congress on Monday calling for an investigation into the state’s infrastructure spending.

Gov. Tate Reeves released a statement Monday criticizing Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba for being unwilling to work with the Unified Command Structure, a multi-agency taskforce that the state formed in late August to help diagnose, fund and fix issues at Jackson’s main water treatment plant.

Specifically, Reeves said city officials told his office they were unwilling to participate in the state’s emergency contract procurement to hire staff across the Jackson water system for a year. The Agency posted the “request for qualifications,” or RFQ, on Friday.

“That would be a huge mistake by the city,” the governor said. “They would be communicating through this action that they no longer desire state assistance and insist on going it alone.”

Reeves said in his statement that the Environmental Protection Agency was pressing the state to hire support staff, and to “take the lead” in procuring the contract. The EPA told Jackson officials in late September it was “prepared to take action,” and then two weeks ago the Jackson City Council voted to enter into a confidentiality agreement with the Department of Justice in discussing a settlement.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves greets members of the Mississippi National Guard at a water distribution site located at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, September 1, 2022.

Lumumba disputed that he was unwilling to participate in the unified approach, saying instead that city officials hadn’t had a chance to review the RFQ before the state published it.

“The City of Jackson has made no mention of ending the City’s cooperation with the Unified Command Structure,” the mayor said in a statement Monday. “What the city will not do is agree to a Request for Qualifications, without the entire Unified Command Structure, which includes the city, having had an opportunity to first contribute, revise or approve the language.”

Jackson, as the RFQ states, would be the entity funding the contract. Hence, Lumumba added: “It is only reasonable to expect the City to play a role in hiring that company.” 

The RFQ seeks staffing to run operations, maintenance, and management of both of the city’s surface water treatments plants — O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell — as well as Jackson’s tanks and well facilities, for a year.

The governor’s statement says Jackson officials had a chance to review the “technical components of the request,” but did not mention any other involvement from the city.

Before the state intervened in late August to take over the O.B. Curtis operations, Lumumba said the city was looking for an operations and management contractor to run the treatment plant.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, with City of Jackson Communications Manager Melissa Payne, fields questions during a community meeting held to update the public on the water system, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2022, at College Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

But at a community meeting on Sept. 13, the mayor said the company he was looking at would no longer negotiate because it was now talking with the state instead. Two days later, WLBT reported, the state awarded an operations contract to Hemphill Construction that lasts two months.

As part of the Unified Command Structure the state established in late August, the state and Jackson officials each agreed to pay half the costs for emergency repairs. then declared a federal emergency, which included paying for 75% of water system improvement costs for 90 days. That cost-share expires on Nov. 29.

The state’s Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, contracts expire on Thursday, said. For weeks, the city and state have relied on the EMAC program to help rehabilitate O.B. Curtis through the work of out-of-state water operators.

Thompson, Maloney launch investigation over state’s role

U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to Reeves on Monday asking for information on the state’s spending of federal drinking water funds. The two Democrats expressed concern over how Mississippi has divvied up historic amounts of federal funding thus far.

“The and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law made billions of dollars available to Mississippi to address a variety of problems,” the letter says, “However, criteria used by (state legislation) to allocate funding — such as median household income, possible population decline and unemployment rate — may limit the funding Jackson receives to other locales, despite Jackson’s much greater need.”

In the letter, Thompson and Maloney ask Reeves for a of how the state was allocating money from the American Rescue Plan Act. They also ask for details on the extra oversight state lawmakers required for sending matching funds to Jackson.

State lawmakers required that matching ARPA funds provided to Jackson go through the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, a burden placed on no other municipality in the state.

Jackson residents and supporters hold signs as they march to the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss. to protest the ongoing water issues in the city on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

The letter also asks about an “arbitrary” $500,000 cap the state established in forgiving loans paid for with money from the Infrastructure Law.

The investigation comes after both the NAACP and the Poor People’s Campaign have in recent weeks called for legal action against the state for depriving the majority-Black city of support for its water system.

The questions over state support to Jackson follow a history of Mississippi lawmakers putting up obstacles for the city to access needed infrastructure funding.

In 2013, lawmakers voted to allow Jackson to add a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for infrastructure. However, lawmakers took the unusual step of creating a commission to oversee the spending and projects, over objections from city leaders, and lawmakers exempted many purchases from the additional tax. So far, most of the projects approved have been for street repairs.

In 2021, lawmakers killed a proposal from the city to allow city voters to decide whether to levy an additional, citywide 1-cent sales tax increase for water and sewerage repairs. The push came after historic winter storms that year left much of the city without water for weeks.

Also in 2021, the city of Jackson unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers for $47 million in funding for drinking water improvements. The Jackson City Council also requested another $60 million to build new water tanks. With the state relatively flush with cash, lawmakers approved spending $356 million in projects statewide, but earmarked only $3 million for Jackson.

In an interview earlier this year with Mississippi Today, Lumumba described the Legislature’s attitude toward Jackson as both racist” and “paternalistic” in terms of how the capitol city is treated compared to other governmental entities.

Mississippi Today reporters Bobby Harrison and Geoff Pender contributed to this report.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Few Mississippians get updated COVID-19 booster shots


As winter surge approaches, few Mississippians get updated COVID-19 booster

The bivalent booster – which provides protection against both the original strain of the virus as well as the Omicron variant – now accounts for most of the vaccine doses administered around the . But only about 45,000 have gotten it since it became available in September

People ages 12 and older are eligible for the new booster shot, as long as it has been at least two months since the last dose. All COVID-19 vaccines are free. 

Mississippi’s low bivalent booster uptake is in line with the national trend: Only about 4% of people eligible in the U.S. have received the new boosters. 

The state is currently seeing low numbers of cases and hospital and ICU admissions, state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said at a meeting of the state board of health on Wednesday. But the winter is likely to bring a surge in cases as people spend more time indoors, and public health experts are worried that thousands of people will die needlessly. 

An analysis by the Commonwealth Fund found that if vaccination rates remain flat over the fall and winter, 75,000 people could die who could have been protected by a booster. 

Mississippians can make an appointment for the bivalent booster at the health department website. Vaccine appointments are also available at the federal website

People can get the updated booster even if they have not gotten an earlier booster shot. That means that if you got two doses of Pfizer, Moderna or Noravax, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, you qualify for the new booster as long as two months have passed since your last dose. You are also eligible if you got a booster dose more than two months ago.

The updated booster shot was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about six weeks ago. The state health department announced bivalent booster appointments were available at county health departments starting on Sept. 13.  

Byers explained that as COVID-19 circulates and evolves, new variants arise that may evade immunity conferred by a vaccine or prior infection. The new booster provides broader protection than the original vaccine.

The future of COVID-19 vaccines may look a lot like the flu shot, with new versions available regularly to protect against the evolved virus. 

“That’s the kind of thing we see with the flu vaccine every year,” Byers said. “One because your immunity may wane but also because it gives you protection against those current viruses circulating and causing illness.”

So far, the vast majority of bivalent boosters in Mississippi have gone to people over age 50, according to data Byers presented at the meeting. 

The rate of booster uptake has increased week over week since early September but appears to be dropping off as of mid-October. 

Only 52% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated, to 67% of Americans, according to the state vaccination report released Oct. 1.

But when it comes to booster uptake, the country as a whole looks like Mississippi: In both the U.S. and in Mississippi, only 48% of people have gotten at least one booster shot. The U.S. lags behind countries like the United Kingdom, where more than 70% of adults have gotten a booster.  

A poll by KFF, a policy nonprofit, found that only half of American adults said they have heard about the updated shots. 

Nearly 1 million Mississippians have been infected with COVID-19. The virus has killed at least 13,000 people in the state. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

A Lizard With No Legs


by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D., Our Mississippi Home

Most of us tolerate the sight of a lizard to a snake. Yet, some of my friends will argue that point. But the swift movements of lizards on four legs is easy enough to note when they show themselves. Snakes are a different issue for most, and I have a few friends that seem to be able to move faster and jump higher when they see them. Alas, there is a creature that may make them jump at first but is a lizard, in disguise.

Like snakes, Glass Lizards evolved to forsake legs as a means of getting around. These animals are more at home in burrows in the ground rather than in the open like many of their relatives. Also known as Legless Lizards, these creatures certainly look like snakes at first glance, but are more like their legged cousins compared to snakes.

Once you get past the…

This article first on Our Mississippi Home.

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Traffic fatalities are down 10 percent in Mississippi.

225 views – Mississippi – 2022-10-04 21:00:46

Amir Mehrara Molan, Civil Engineering.  Photo by Kevin Bain/The University of Mississippi Marketing Communications

Mississippi has the second-largest traffic rate in the U.S. this year to 2021.

Mississippi traffic fatalities for the first six months of 2021 were approximately 380 during the pandemic. This year, the total so far 341, according to the U.S. Department Of Transportation.

Amir Molan, an assistant professor of civil engineering, who specializes in highway safety and traffic analysis at the University of Mississippi, said last year’s numbers were higher for several reason, including that during the pandemic last year, the average speed increased, more people driving…

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