President Joe Biden

$600M designated for struggling water system in Mississippi

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-12-26 17:12:31

Jackson
Clouds are reflected off the City of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility’s sedimentation basins in Ridgeland, Miss., Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The federal government will put $600 million toward repairing the troubled water system in Mississippi’s capital city — a project that the mayor has said could cost billions of dollars.

Funding for Jackson water is included in a $1.7 trillion federal spending bill that passed the Senate on Thursday and the House on Friday. is expected to sign it into…

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Zelenskyy arrives in US to meet Biden, address Congress as war rages

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www.wxxv25.com – Hannah Jacole – 2022-12-21 13:28:28

By ZEKE MILLER, LISA MASCARO and E. EDUARDO CASTILLO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a summit with and an address to Congress in a bid to shore up support for his country and send a defiant message to its Russian invaders.

A U.S. official confirmed that a U.S. Air Force jet carrying the Ukrainian leader landed at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the capital. Zelenskyy said on his Twitter account before his arrival that the visit, his first known trip outside Ukraine since the…

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How to apply for student loan forgiveness

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Biden’s student loan application officially opened on Monday. Here’s how to apply

The Biden administration’s application for student loan forgiveness is officially open. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31, 2022. 

Eligible borrowers, among them hundreds of thousands of , could see their balances erased within four to six weeks if they apply today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the federal agency overseeing the plan. 

Borrowers who want to see their balances reduced before payments resume in January should fill out the form by Nov. 15. Loan repayment has been on pause due to the pandemic since March 2020.

Though the plan is facing a raft of legal challenges, has said he believes it will prevail in court. The lawsuits have already resulted in the U. S. Department of Education making a number of tweaks to the program, including removing about 800,000 borrowers from eligibility whose loans are backed by the federal government but held by commercial banks. 

In late September, the Department of Education also announced that borrowers can opt-out of  loan forgiveness following a that claimed the plan would unfairly harm borrowers who live in the six states, including Mississippi, that will tax student debt relief as income

That lawsuit was dismissed, though it’s unclear how Mississippi will carry out its plan to tax student debt relief as income because the federal government has directed servicers to not provide 1099-Cs – the tax form needed for filing debt cancellation.

READ MORE: Mississippi plans to tax student debt relief. But Paycheck Protection Program loans are tax exempt.

The Department of Education has said it will notify about 8 million borrowers who automatically qualify for relief. Borrowers in this group who’d like to opt out should contact their servicer by Nov. 14, according to the Washington Post. 

The form, available in Spanish or English, takes less than one minute to complete – it asks for name, date of birth, phone number, email address, and Social Security Number. The form will ask borrowers to attest that they meet the income limits, up to $125,000 a year.

Some borrowers may need to verify their income after submitting the application, but the Department of Education has said it will let them know. The Washington Post reported that borrowers “who present a higher likelihood of exceeding the income limit threshold” will likely be asked to submit documentation. 

Relief is capped at $10,000 for many borrowers and at $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants in college. The form notes that income is calculated “based on your adjusted gross income (AGI), which tends to be lower than your total income.” 

To qualify, borrowers must have taken out student loans before July 2022. Current college students are eligible for relief if their parents make less than $125,000. Borrowers with private loans are not eligible. 

As many as 40 million Americans qualify for student debt relief, including 439,000 people in Mississippi. For nearly half of those Mississippians, the plan will wipe away student debt, according to an analysis by the Education Data Initiative. The average Mississippi borrower with federal student loans owes about $37,000, one of the highest average debts in the country. 

The Biden administration has cast the plan as a way to ameliorate the country’s racial wealth gap. In Mississippi, Black borrowers take on higher amounts of undergraduate student debt than those of other races, according to data from a recent National Postsecondary Aid study

Black students in Mississippi borrowed an average of $10,800 in undergraduate student debt during the 2017-18 school year, while borrowers of other races took out an average of $7,400. Black borrowers in Mississippi also took out more loans during the school year than the average Black borrower across the country, while borrowers of other races took on less debt than average. 

One legal challenge that claimed the Biden Administration violated the Equal Protection Clause because it “intentionally crafted the program to benefit borrowers of color” was dismissed two days after it was filed, USA Today reported

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

Student loan forgiveness application website goes live

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-10-17 20:13:23

Biden
speaks about the student debt relief portal beta test in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday officially kicked off the application process for his student debt cancellation program and announced that 8 million borrowers had already applied for loan relief during the federal government’s soft launch period over the weekend.

He encouraged the tens of millions eligible for potential relief to visit studentaid.gov and touted the…

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Jackson water: Congress calls for probe of spending

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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 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 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 breakdown 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 ’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.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker gets $20M to aid Jackson water issues

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-09-30 15:01:11

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (Tupelo-R) addresses residents of the south Delta gathered at a town meeting held in Rolling Fork, Miss., to address the decades-long failure to install the Yazoo Pumps to mitigate flooding Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

As part of a bill to keep the federal government open through Dec. 16, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has included a short-term funding bill that would provide $20 million to support the City of Jackson.

The House Friday passed a bill to keep the federal government open through Dec. 16, hours before a partial shutdown would have kicked in at midnight and only weeks before the midterm elections.

The vote was 230-2 with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill. The measure, which passed the Senate 72-25 Thursday, heads to for his signature.

More: LEAD…

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Jackson garners $20 million in federal legislation for water woes

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Jackson garners $20 million in federal legislation for water woes

The federal government is providing $20 million for the troubled Jackson water system in legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a 230-201 margin.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this week.

The bill will avert a partial government shutdown and continue funding of the federal government through Dec. 16. will sign the legislation into law before midnight Friday when the current funding authorization expires.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat in the ’s congressional delegation, voted for the proposal while the three House Republicans – Michael Guest, Trent and Steven Palazzo — voted no. Thompson and Guest both represent portions of Jackson.

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republican, voted for the proposal when it passed their chamber.

“I support providing additional resources to help the city of Jackson address its water infrastructure needs,” Wicker said. “The $20 million included in this funding legislation would build on the initial $5 million provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I recognize this funding will not be enough to address the long-standing water infrastructure issues in Jackson, but this is a good start.

A Wicker release went on to explain, “The 2007 Water Resources Development Act authorized $25 million for the city of Jackson’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. This authorization was provided through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 219 Environmental Infrastructure Assistance Program. The city received an initial $5 million appropriation from that authorization earlier this year, which will enable the Corps of Engineers to complete projects in partnership with the city.”

Politico reported at one time Thompson was trying to incorporate into the legislation funding the government an additional $200 million for the City of Jackson. Despite the much smaller appropriation to the city, Thompson, like all congressional Democrats, voted for the proposal.

In a statement, Guest said he voted against the funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, because, “ are experiencing record high inflation.  I have and will continue to fight for legislation that restricts the size of government and addresses our national debt.

As far the $20 million in the bill for Jackson, Guest said, “I continue to be committed to working with local, state, and federal leaders to help with long-term solutions to the Jackson water system problem, but the continuing resolution did not address the situation on a long-term basis. The continuing resolution included concerning levels of spending and a risk for additional inflation that the people of our state cannot afford.”

Both the president and Gov. Tate Reeves issued emergency declarations in late August and early September when the system malfunctioned leaving no water pressure for many of the about 180,000 customers of the system. Water pressure has been restored and boil water notices that lasted for much of the summer have for the most part been lifted.

But officials say the system still faces long-term problems that some estimate will cost as much as $1 billion to fix.

The City of Jackson has committed to spend between $27 million and $34 million of the federal relief funds it received to draw down on a dollar-for-dollar basis COVID-19 relief money the state received from the federal government. also is committing about $17 million of its COVID-19 relief funds for the project.

Often, the Republican leaders of the state and the Democratic leaders of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city, have been at odds on how to fix the water system.

Last week federal Environmental Protection Agency officials met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and voiced a desire to work with city officials to solve the problems with the water system. But in a letter to city officials the EPA said it is prepared to take action under federal law if “an enforceable agreement that is in the best interest of both the city and the United States” is not reached.

Lumumba has said cooperative work is under way.

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

Texts: Phil Bryant helped Brett Favre secure USM volleyball funding

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Former Gov. Phil Bryant helped Brett Favre secure welfare funding for USM volleyball stadium, texts reveal

Text messages entered Monday into the ’s ongoing civil over the welfare scandal reveal that former Gov. Phil Bryant pushed to make NFL legend Brett Favre’s volleyball idea a reality.

The texts show that the then-governor even guided Favre on how to write a funding proposal so that it could be accepted by the Mississippi Department of Human Services – even after Bryant ousted the former welfare agency director John Davis for suspected fraud.

“Just left Brett Favre,” Bryant texted nonprofit founder Nancy New in July of 2019, within weeks of Davis’ departure. “Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course.”

When Favre asked Bryant how the new agency director might affect their plans to fund the volleyball stadium, Bryant assured him, “I will handle that… long story but had to make a change. But I will call Nancy and see what it will take,” according to the filing and a text Favre forwarded to New.

The newly released texts, filed Monday by an attorney representing Nancy New’s nonprofit, show that Bryant, Favre, New, Davis and others worked together to channel at least $5 million of the state’s welfare funds to build a new volleyball stadium at University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre’s daughter played the sport. Favre received most of the credit for raising funds to construct the facility.

Bryant has for years denied any close involvement in the steering of welfare funds to the volleyball stadium, though plans for the project even included naming the building after him, one text shows.

New, a friend of Bryant’s wife Deborah, ran a nonprofit that was in charge of spending tens of millions of flexible federal welfare dollars outside of public view. What followed was the biggest public fraud case in state history, according to the state auditor’s office. Nonprofit leaders had misspent at least $77 million in funds that were supposed to help the needy, forensic auditors found.

New pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts related to the scheme, and Davis awaits trial. But neither Bryant nor Favre have been charged with any .

And while the state-of-the-art facility represents the single largest known fraudulent purchase within the scheme, according to one of the criminal defendant’s plea agreement, the state is not pursuing the matter in its ongoing civil complaint. Current Gov. Tate Reeves abruptly fired the attorney bringing the state’s case when he tried to subpoena documents related to the volleyball stadium.

The messages also show that a separate $1.1 million welfare contract Favre received to promote the program – the subject of many national headlines – was simply a way to get more funding to the volleyball project.

“I could record a few radio spots,” Favre texted New, according to the new filing. “…and whatever compensation could go to USM.”

New, who is now aiding prosecutors as part of her plea deal, alleged that Bryant directed her to make the payment to Favre in a bombshell response to the complaint in July.

The allegation and defense “are not based on speculation or conjecture,” the Monday court filing reads. “The evidence suggests that MDHS Executives, including Governor Bryant, knew that Favre was seeking funds from MDHS to build the Volleyball Facility … and participated in directing, approving, or providing Favre MDHS funds to be used for construction of the Volleyball Facility.”

The latest motion, filed on behalf of New’s nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center, represents the first time these messages, which include texts directly between New and Bryant and New and Favre, have been made public. The messages are printed here exactly as they appear in the filing without corrections.

In July, the attorney for New and the nonprofit, Gerry Bufkin, filed a subpoena on Bryant asking for the former governor’s communication related to the volleyball project.

On Aug. 26, Bryant’s recently-hired attorney Billy Quin filed an objection to the subpoena, refusing to turn over the records without a protective order. Quin argued that Bryant’s texts are protected by executive privilege and that producing them to the public would afoul of existing gag orders in the criminal cases.

Bufkin’s latest motion includes texts that the attorney picked, not entire text threads, and may only reflect one side of the story. In a short statement to Mississippi Today for this story, Bryant didn’t offer an explanation for his communication.

“(The New defense team’s) refusal to agree to a protective order, along with their failure to convey the Governor’s position to the court, unfortunately shows they are more concerned with pretrial publicity than they are with civil justice,” Bryant said.

Bufkin’s motion asks for the court to compel Bryant to produce the documents, arguing they are central to New’s defense.

“Defendant reasonably relied on then-Governor Phil Bryant, acting within his broad statutory authority as chief executive of the State,” reads New’s July response to the complaint, “including authority over MDHS and TANF, and his extensive knowledge of Permissible TANF Expenditures from 12 years as State Auditor, four years as Lieutenant Governor, and a number of years as Governor leading up to and including the relevant time period.”

Bufkin told Mississippi Today that the governor’s involvement in building the volleyball stadium, suggested by the text messages, “lends an air of credibility to the project, which is important to our defenses.”

“We do not believe a protective order shielding the Governor’s documents from public view, and thus limiting our ability to use them in open court or public pleadings in support of our defenses, is appropriate,” Bufkin said.

Federal regulations prohibit states from using money from the welfare program, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), on “brick and mortar,” or the construction of buildings.

The scheme to circumvent federal regulations in order to build the volleyball stadium has already resulted in a criminal conviction.

New’s son Zach New admitted in his April plea agreement to defrauding the government when he participated in a scheme “to disguise the USM construction project as a ‘lease’ as a means of circumventing the limited purpose grant’s strict prohibition against ‘brick and mortar’ construction projects in violation of Miss. Code Ann. 97-7-10.”

Favre’s attorney Bud Holmes denied that the athlete knew the money he received was from the welfare fund. “Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing,” Holmes said Monday.

When Mississippi Today asked Favre by text in 2020 if he had discussed the volleyball project with the governor, Favre said, simply: “No.”

Former NFL football player Brett Favre, welfare officials and University of Southern Mississippi staffers met in July of 2017 to discuss the welfare agency funding the construction of a multi-million dollar volleyball stadium on campus. From left to right, attendees of the gathering were former professional wrestler Ted “Teddy” DiBiase, MDHS deputy Garrig Sheilds, then-USM Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert, Mississippi Community Education Center founder Nancy New, then-MDHS Director John Davis, Favre, another university staffer and Zach New.

The motion filed Monday offers a detailed look at the earliest days of the planning of the USM volleyball center between Favre, New, Davis and other key players — a chronology that had not up to this point been publicly revealed.

Favre first asked for funding from Mississippi Department of Human Services during a July 24, 2017, meeting at USM with New, Davis, university athletic staff and others, according to the motion.

By this time, the University of Southern Mississippi and the Southern Miss Athletic Foundation, which would pay for the construction, had already made some progress on Favre’s idea. On July 1, according to records, the university leased its athletic facilities and fields to the foundation for $1, which made it possible for the foundation to lease the facilities to the New nonprofit for $5 million.

Because of the strict prohibition on using TANF funds to pay for construction, the parties had to craft an agreement that would look to satisfy federal law and give the illusion they were helping needy families. With the help of legal advice from MDHS attorneys, they came up with the idea for New’s nonprofit to enter a $5 million up-front lease of the university’s athletic facilities, which the nonprofit would purportedly use for programming. And in exchange, the foundation would include offices for the nonprofit inside the volleyball facility, which they called a “Wellness Center.”

Davis immediately committed $4 million to the project, according to the motion.

“While Favre was pleased with MDHS’s $4 million commitment, he knew a state-of-the-art Volleyball Facility was likely to cost more,” the filing reads. “To make matters worse, USM apparently had a policy that any construction project on campus had to be funded fully, and the money deposited in USM’s account, before construction could begin.”

Favre thought of a way to get some extra cash to the program: even more money could flow through his company in exchange for the athlete cutting ads for the state’s welfare program. New said she thought it was a good idea.

“Was just thinking that here is the way to do it!!” Favre texted.

Only days after Favre received the financial commitment from Davis, he “had grown impatient with USM, which was moving slowly. Favre contacted Governor Bryant to speed things along. In response, Governor Bryant called Nancy New,” the motion reads.

“Wow,” New texted Favre, “just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!”

The governor remained in tune on the project as it progressed. On Nov. 2, 2017, New texted Favre, “I saw the Gov last night … it’s all going to work out.”

Four days later, New’s nonprofit paid the first lump sum of $2.5 million. It paid another $2.5 million on Dec. 5, 2017, according to the state auditor’s office report released in 2020. Favre also received his first payment under the advertising agreement of $500,000 in December 2017.

“Nancy Santa came today and dropped some money off,” Favre texted New that day, “thank you my goodness thank you. We need to setup the promo for you soon. Your way to kind.”

The nonprofit paid the athlete another $600,000 in June 2018.

By 2019, as the cost of construction for the volleyball center grew and Favre had committed to pay more than $1 million himself that he expected to receive from MDHS, the athlete became antsy. According to a calendar entry entered by Davis, Bryant and Favre requested to meet with welfare officials about the USM facility in January of 2019.

An emailed calendar invite obtained by Mississippi Today shows Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis invited his colleague, former wrestler Ted DiBiase, to meet at Nancy New’s office to discuss topics of interest to Brett Favre and the governor.

Favre nudged the welfare officials who promised to help, but the state agency and nonprofits were in financial turmoil. Months went by with no USM payments.

In June of 2019, Bryant ousted Davis after an MDHS employee came forward with a tip about suspected fraud. Bryant replaced Davis with former FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze. 

When Favre asked Bryant if Davis’ departure would affect the project, according to the motion, the governor responded, “I will handle that… long story but had to make a change. But I will call Nancy and see what it will take.”

“Just left Brett Favre,” Bryant then texted New. “Can we help him with his project. We should meet soon to see how I can make sure we keep your projects on course.”

Later that day, New texted Favre to tell him that she would be meeting with the governor in two days.

“He wants me to continue to help you and us get our project done,” she said.

With the new guard in place at the top of the welfare agency, Favre and New tried to put together a proposal for more volleyball funding that would pass the smell test. Part of their plan was to put Bryant’s name on the building, according to one text from New to Favre. Favre relayed to New that Bryant said New would have to submit proper paperwork to MDHS.

“While the Governor’s text to Favre said New needed to ‘get the paperwork in,’ the Governor confided to Favre on a call that he had already seen Favre’s proposal. Favre texted New, ‘[the Governor] said to me just a second ago that he has seen [the funding proposal] but hint hint that you need to reword it to get it accepted,” reads New’s motion.

New had questions about how to reword the proposal, but instead of having a conversation directly with the governor, she relied on what the governor would tell Favre, the texts show.

“Hopefully she can put more details in the proposal,” Bryant said, according to a text Favre forwarded to New. “Like how many times the facility will be used and how many child will be served and for what specific purpose.”

Favre later texted, “I really feel like he is trying to figure out a way to get it done without actually saying it.”

Favre, New, Bryant and Freeze met in September 2019 to discuss progress on the new facility.

Though the texts illustrate the governor’s support for the program around that time, Bryant said in an April 2022 interview with Mississippi Today that he rejected the request from New and Favre fund the project further.

“I stood up and I said, ‘No,’” Bryant told Mississippi Today. “… I remember a meeting with Nancy New and Chris (Freeze), and maybe it was another one, and me. And she came in one more time, ‘Volleyball, volleyball.’ And she said, ‘My budgets have been cut and I can’t do all of these things … And that’s another thing: ‘Budgets are cut,’ so I’m thinking somebody’s watching over spending. And then she said, ‘And oh, by the way, can we have the money for the volleyball?’ And I said, ‘No. No, we’re not spending anything right now. That is terminated.’”

Two days after the meeting, New received a letter from the welfare agency informing her that the agency was increasing her TANF subgrant by $1.1 million, which the letter said was for the purpose of reimbursing payments the nonprofit made to its partners. 

Under Freeze, MDHS reinstated its bid process for TANF subgrants. Though New’s nonprofit was under investigation, and had been raided by the auditor’s office months earlier, the welfare agency notified New in December of 2019 that she had won another grant for the coming year. That month, Bryant texted New to ask if she had received the award.

“Yes, we did,” New responded to the former governor. “From all the craziness going on, we had been made to believe we were not getting refunded. But we did. ‘Someone’ was definitely pulling for us behind the scenes. Thank you.”

Bryant responded with a smiley face.

In early 2020, as funding to the nonprofits slowed and Bryant entered the waning days in his final term as governor, Favre and state officials scrambled to come up with the funds to finish the USM volleyball project. Communication obtained by Mississippi Today shows that another state agency that had been receiving grants from the welfare department joined talks of funding the remainder of the construction.

New sent Favre’s funding request to Andrea Mayfield, then-director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

“I am at a loss right now,” New wrote, “and am honestly trying to save coworkers’ jobs, too. Are we closer on a lease, etc. for him. Sorry to have to ask this as I know everybody is doing everything they can. Thank y’all.”

Mayfield proposed having the USM athletic foundation front the $556,000 that the builders needed, and then be reimbursed by various state agencies through monthly rent payments.

“I can work each agency to execute a contract. Once they execute a contract with me, I can quickly execute with MCEC. I am sorry it is taking time. I am at the mercy of each partners schedule. Thoughts?” Mayfield texted USM Athletic Director Jeremy McClain, according to the message she forwarded to New and Favre.

“Let me know,” Favre responded, “and we have a few weeks until it’s finished. If need be Deanna and I will just pay it. If the university will at least Agree on a deal maybe we can get some funding fairly quickly.”

It’s unclear if any more federal grants went to Favre or the athletic foundation after this point.

Bufkin isn’t the only person who has subpoenaed the former governor’s communication related to the volleyball project. Attorney Brad Pigott, who originally represented the state’s welfare department in the civil suit, also subpoenaed the athletic foundation for its communication with Bryant or his wife Deborah Bryant – and was fired from the case as a result.

Pigott previously called the $5 million agreement between the New nonprofit and the athletic foundation “a sham, fraudulent, so-called lease agreement” in which the parties pretended that the purpose of the deal was for the nonprofit to provide services at the facilities, “all of which was a lie,” Pigott said.

Pigott said he believed his firing was political. Reeves and his current welfare agency director have waffled on their reason for terminating Pigott

The state’s civil case, which seeks to recoup $24 million from 38 people or organizations, appears to have slowed since Pigott’s firing. The athletic foundation is not named as defendant and the volleyball stadium is not discussed once in the complaint. The state canceled and has not rescheduled several depositions that were supposed to take place this month — including one with Favre. 

“People are going to go to jail over this, at least the state should be willing to find out the truth of what happened,” Pigott told Mississippi Today after his firing in July.

It’s unclear how the athletic foundation has responded, if at all, to either Bufkin or the state’s subpoena, as no related filings appear in the case file. Objections to subpoenas, such as Bryant’s, are not entered into court. If a subpoenaed entity produces documents as requested, those documents could also go directly to the requesting parties and would not appear in the public court file.

The FBI is still investigating the welfare scandal, but officials haven’t publicly indicated which figures they might be pursuing. recently nominated Todd Gee to serve as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, a position that has been vacant for nearly two years. Gee, a Vicksburg native, will inherit the welfare investigation in his new job after serving as the deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice since 2018.

Gee previously served as lead counsel for the House Homeland Security Committee under chair U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who in July wrote a letter to U.S. Merrick Garland asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Bryant’s role in the welfare scheme.

Shad White, the state auditor who originally investigated the case, was appointed by and formerly served as a campaign manager for Bryant. Shortly after his office arrested New, Davis and four others for their alleged roles in the scheme, White publicly called Bryant the whistleblower in the case.

Asked on Monday how he would characterize Bryant’s role in the scandal now, White said, “I wouldn’t because we don’t know everything that’s going to come out ultimately.”

“I would just let the public decide how they interpret his actions over the course of that entire thing,” White said. “You know, really, if you think back about the corpus of events here that happened, a lot of it has been put out in the . And so I think anybody who’s reading the newspaper can look at that and say, ‘OK, people at DHS did this right, and they did this wrong. People in the governor’s office did this right, and they did that wrong.’ And they can decide.”

“That’s not for me to decide what somebody’s legacy is,” White added.

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

Poll: Jacksonians give Lumumba and Reeves low marks handling water crisis

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Poll: Jacksonians give Lumumba and Reeves low marks handling water crisis

Jackson residents generally believe Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is doing a better job than Republican Gov. Tate Reeves dealing with the city’s failing water system, according to a poll conducted Thursday and Friday — but both received low marks.

Of the poll respondents, 34.8% found Reeves’ handling of the crisis totally unacceptable while 21.6% found it poor. Meanwhile, 31.3% found Lumumba’s efforts totally unacceptable while 15.2% rated it as poor. The poll found 35.6% gave Lumumba great or good marks while only 22.6% said the same for Reeves.

The survey was conducted by Blueprint Polling, a sister company of Chism Strategies – a Mississippi-based firm that has long done political and public policy surveys.

Blueprint polled 491 Jackson voters on landlines and cell phones this week. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4% and was weighted in an attempt to match the demographics of Jackson voters – heavily African American and Democratic. African Americans made up 84% of the respondents.

Jackson residents, based on poll results, were split on the long-term issue of how to fix the water system. Estimates put that fix at more than $1 billion, according to the city. The poll found 30.6% of respondents favored the providing funds for the fix with the city continuing to operate the system, while 30.1% favored the creation of a regional water board. Another 20.6% favor a state takeover.

More white voters (40%) favor a state takeover while 24.2% of Black voters do. Black voters are not keen on the city continuing to the system with only 32.1% supporting that option to only 21.4% of white voters.

The water system has been in a state of disrepair for years, but the problems intensified in recent days. On Monday night, the governor declared a state of emergency, citing the lack of water pressure throughout the city for many of the more than 170,000 customers on the system and the lack of safe drinking water for all the customers. issued a federal emergency order later in the week, deploying federal personnel and resources to help state and local officials deal with the immediate problems, but not the long-term fix.

Jackson has been under a boil water notice since late June. The problems grew in recent days because of Pearl River flooding impacting the reservoir, which is the city’s primary source of water, and the inability of city officials to adequately staff the system’s water treatment plants.

The pollsters surmised that “we expect opinions to continue to evolve as voters learn more about the city’s recent management history over the Jackson water system.”

In addition, the pollsters pointed out the survey was conducted before U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents most of Jackson, weighed in on the problems facing the system. Thompson said on Mississippi Today’s “The Other Side” podcast that the state had not lived up to its obligations in helping maintain the system, but by the same token he would not favor the city having sole authority of the system unless it could demonstrate an ability to adequately do so.

Because of Thompson’s position as the only Democrat in the congressional delegation and because of his relationship with the president and his high ranking position in Congress, “ it is doubtful that any lasting solution will be reached without Congressman Thompson’s approval.”

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

How to help and donate to residents

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-09-01 17:47:55

This coverage of the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, is available to all readers. Sign up for a subscription to support local journalism.

For months, the capital of Mississippi has been in a water crisis, causing the city of Jackson to be thrown into the national spotlight as water treatment plants fail. 

Jackson’s aging water and sewer system has been an issue for years but now has seemingly come to a head. declared a of emergency for the community a day after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves called one. 

Ways to help:Little Miss Flint launches GoFundMe to…

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