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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 state’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 run 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 appeared 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 state 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 run 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 appeared 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 Clarion Ledger – 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 state 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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What’s happening Jackson, MS? Water crisis, state of emergency, more

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rssfeeds.hattiesburgamerican.com – USATNetwork – 2022-08-31 16:44:57

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

The capital of Mississippi is in the middle of a water crisis.

Jackson has been thrown into national headlines as water treatment plants fail, and calls a state of emergency for the community a day after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves called one.

This comes after days of excessive rain and caused pumps to fail at one of the town’s water treatment plants and has left residences and businesses experiencing low water pressure…

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State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

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State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

While local, state and federal officials scramble to restore the city of Jackson’s failed water system in the short-term, Mississippi state lawmakers and legislative leaders are meeting privately this week to discuss long-term solutions for the capital city’s collapsing system.

State officials knowledgeable of the deliberations agree that the immediate need is to restore an adequate flow to all parts of the city and end the need to boil water for drinking. But they also stress that much more is needed for a long-term fix for Jackson’s water system.

That fix will require legislation — both at the state level and perhaps on the federal level.

Members of Jackson’s legislative delegation met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba Wednesday afternoon and planned to meet with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson Wednesday night to discuss possible long-term solutions.

Thompson, who represents a large swath of the capital city, has vowed support of a workable plan to fix the water system. U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, who also represents a small portion of Jackson, said, “I am working in Congress to help find solutions and to put Jackson back on a pathway to being the capital city we need and deserve, but it is going to take a combined effort from leaders at all levels.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the only statewide Republican who owns a home inside the city of Jackson, has been meeting with Jackson lawmakers and other prominent state leaders since before the Jackson water system failed to brainstorm ideas for a permanent solution.

Various proposals have emerged in these talks over the past week, several people with direct knowledge of the deliberations told Mississippi Today. The ideas include:

  • Creating a “regional water authority” to run the system, which also serves Byram and parts of .
  • Putting the city water system in a temporary conservatorship run by the state Public Service Commission, with the goal of passing the system back to city leaders after service has been restored.
  • Creating some new state entity or commission to take full, permanent control of the city’s water system.
  • Privatizing Jackson’s water system, leasing it to a private company that would manage it moving forward.

Hosemann said in an interview with Mississippi Today on Wednesday that he’s been “saddened and sickened” by the water crisis and watching it make national . He said a long-term fix for Jackson’s water and sewerage will be an expensive, “monumental task.” But he vowed: “We will have a plan, and we will put Jackson back on its water feet.”

Hosemann said the task now at hand for a long-term solution is for state, federal, city of Jackson and Hinds County leaders to “first get a cogent plan.”

But getting this large group of politicians to agree on one single plan hasn’t been accomplished after many years of effort. Any of the options currently being discussed would require Jackson giving up at least some autonomy and control of its water operations.

As recently as 2021, city leaders including Lumumba have bristled at state attempts to ride herd over the city. These efforts include an attempted state takeover of Jackson’s regional airport, the state requiring a special board to oversee infrastructure work funded by a special 1-cent city sales tax, and recently lawmakers requiring state oversight of federal pandemic stimulus money for water and sewerage projects — requirements that were not placed on other cities.

Lumumba has described such state attitudes toward the capital city as “paternalistic” and “racist.” There has been an icy relationship between the majority Black, majority Democratic capital city and the white Republican state leadership that runs most of state government from Jackson.

But Hosemann said he doesn’t foresee such issues hindering teamwork on solving the water crisis. He noted Lumumba this week said he welcomes state assistance dealing with the issue. Both Hosemann and Gov. Tate Reeves, who is leading the state’s response to the short-term crisis, said they’ve met with the mayor and the city’s legislative delegation in recent days.

This would appear to be progress, although it’s notable that Lumumba and other city leaders have been absent at Reeves’ and state leaders’ recent press conferences on emergency water operations and vice versa.

Lumumba addressed this in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve heard people say we’re having dueling press conferences,” Lumumba said. “That is not how I would characterize it.” He said he and Reeves are both trying to address the public “early and often” and are “leaning forward.” He said there is a “cooperative effort.”

A prevailing question about a state-sanctioned, long-term fix of the water system is whether the governor will call a special session soon or wait for the regular session in 2023 to address the water crisis.

Reeves recently said his primary focus is solving the immediate problem and that at some point legislators “would be able to weigh in a potential … long-term solution.” He said he had pledged to work with them on that solution.

Sen. John Horhn, a Democrat from Jackson, said waiting to the regular session “would give us time to come up with a strategy to determine what kind of system it will be (moving forward) and who will own it.”

Horhn said, “If state officials are going to provide a significant portion of the resources, we are going to want a say” in the operation of the system.

The mayor has estimated that solution would cost more than $1 billion.

Rep. Earle Banks, a Democrat from Jackson, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday he and several other Jackson lawmakers support potential legislation that would place the city’s water system in a conservatorship “under the auspices of the three-member Public Service Commission.” The PSC could contract with outside companies to help run the system while the multiple problems were addressed. Then at some point down the road, the operation of the system would be returned to Jackson city government.

The PSC, which regulates most utilities in the state, currently has no authority over the Jackson water system. The PSC could petition a court for an order to take over a rural system facing similar issues.

Hosemann on Wednesday mentioned the regionalized water authority idea. He said the state “has a history with regional water authority” on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane ’s destruction of numerous water systems. He said Jackson’s system could be considered regional because it already serves the city of Byram and parts of Hinds County.

Some of those Coast systems at the time of Katrina had been in disrepair and struggling, and the creation of a six-county regional authority was required to qualify for federal money to not just replace them, but rebuild them bigger and better.

However, there was great infighting among cities and counties wanting to control their own water systems, and in the end, the Coast regional authority passed by lawmakers in 2006 was really regional in name only, and the legislation also created six separate county authorities, allowed any who wanted to opt out, and allowed cities to mostly run their own systems.

Hosemann said he wrote a letter last week to Jackson and Hinds County elected leaders urging them to put up all they can of the combined $87 million they received in federal pandemic stimulus money. The Legislature this year passed a program to match any such spending on water and sewerage 1-to-1 with federal money the state received.

The city has planned to earmark $25 million of its money, and Hinds County leaders have discussed pledging about $8 million. Both have earmarked millions of their funds for other things. Hosemann said they should reconsider this, and put more of it up for the state infrastructure match, and use it to address Jackson’s water issues.

“I will be greatly disappointed if they don’t spend more of it on this,” Hosemann said. He said the state also still has $345 million of its pandemic funds it hasn’t spent. He said he’s also hopeful that the federal government will help with funding for solving Jackson’s crisis.

Some members of Jackson’s legislative delegation are beginning to publicly acknowledge that the city handing over at least some control to the state is a necessity.

“To get the money the state controls, I expect state leaders to insist on changes to the Jackson water system,” state Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, said in social media post. “I am open to any discussion, provided that it 1) must include significant money that is sufficient to fix the problem and 2) protects the citizens, especially low income citizens, with fair water rates. If we can convince the governor and state legislative leaders to spend what is needed to fix our water system, we must say YES. Inaction and complaints are not an option.”

“I especially want to point out that this problem is bigger than Jackson,” Blount continued.

Banks, the state representative, said there are three issues facing Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure. They are:

  • The immediate problem of the water treatment plants failures caused by a number of factors, including recent and the inability of the city to properly staff the plants.
  • The aging distribution system, which consists of 1,500 miles of pipes, some 100 years old, that often break, especially during extreme cold weather. Break in February 2021 during a winter storm resulted in a prolonged citywide water failure.
  • Wastewater issues that have resulted in the city dumping millions of tons or raw sewage into the Pearl River or its tributaries.

All of those issues have placed the city in the crosshairs of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the recent lack of water pressure in many parts of the city has resulted in issuing a federal disaster proclamation.

On Wednesday, Lumumba said he spoke with both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom assured him there will be federal help.

“They both assured me that we will have the full arm of support from the federal government in any possible way we can help,” Lumumba said.

That federal aid will provide the state and city technical assistance through the Corps of Engineers to help ensure the water pumps are operational.

In addition Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton announced Wednesday that the National Association of Water Companies, a group of the nation’s largest water utilities, “are willing to provide free technical assistance with boots on the ground.” Presley said he would be “connecting” the group with the Agency.

While local, state and federal leaders begin to draw battle lines over a permanent fix, the water system’s failure has spurred unprecedented state and federal level conversations about long-term solutions.

“We will not fail at this,” Hosemann said on Wednesday. “We’ve faced catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina as a neighborhood. Mississippi is a neighborhood, and 200,000 of our citizens are in trouble. We are going to get central Mississippi back on its feet.”

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

Jackson water crisis: an FAQ

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Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the Jackson water crisis

The drinking water system in Jackson — Mississippi’s largest city and home to more than 160,000 residents — is failing, state officials announced on Monday.

Thousands of Jackson residents have no or little water pressure, and though local, state and federal officials are working to restore reliable service, they cannot yet say when that will happen.

Mississippi Today has compiled a list of answers to some commonly asked questions submitted by readers about the water crisis. This post will be updated.

What’s happening with the water in Jackson?

In late July, the state health department issued a city-wide boil water notice for Jackson because of turbidity, or cloudiness in the water. A couple weeks later in early August, city officials announced that some customers may experience low water pressure because of issues with the pumps at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said on Monday that from the Pearl River forced plant operators to change how they were treating the water, and that the whole city could see low water pressure as a result. Gov. Tate Reeves later on Monday blamed the low pressure on the poor-performing pumps. Lumumba has since reiterated that the flooding is the main issue at hand, while Reeves has since said the low pressure results from a combination of the two problems.

Since Monday, many homes in Jackson have seen lower or no water pressure, and state and city officials have instructed the city not to consume the water without boiling it first.

Where can I go to get water?

Many organizations, along with the City of Jackson, are distributing water for free at locations across the city. Find a list of addresses here. For those with mobility issues, call the city’s constituent services or 311, although officials urge people to reserve that line for those who can’t get water otherwise.

If I have water, is it safe to use?

Water is not safe to consume unless boiled for one minute. Residents should also use boiled water for making ice, brushing their teeth, washing dishes and other food preparation, the state health department says. The Agency said it is safe to use unboiled water for baths and showers as well as washing hands and clothes, but people should avoid letting water get in their mouths.

What are state and city leaders doing to fix this?

While Mayor Lumumba has said for the better part of two years that the drinking water system is in a constant state of emergency and that the city does not have the funds to fix it, Jackson has begun to use new federal funds on a number of projects to improve the system, such as building a new distribution line to alleviate pressure issues, as well as weatherizing the O.B.Curtis plant to help prevent shutdowns like what Jackson saw after the winter storms in 2021.

After reluctance to provide additional funding to the city, Gov. Tate Reeves has this week thrown state resources into Jackson to help diagnose and fix the problems at the treatment plant. State health department officials are now working from the plant in-person, and Reeves said the state will cover half the costs of emergency maintenance, repairs, and improvements. 

What is the federal government doing?

Late Tuesday night approved a federal emergency declaration for the Jackson water crisis, which will provide federal resources to assist local and state officials. Emergency protective measures, the White House said, will be provided at 75% federal funding for a period of 90 days.

Do you know how long it will be before the systems are back working?

Officials cannot say when things will be fixed, but have warned it’s not an immediate fix. Gov. Reeves and other officials have said as fixes are made at the plant, there is concern other things will break because of neglected maintenance — and the plant lacks “redundancy” and staff to maintain these repairs as well. 

State, local and even federal officials are in talks of more permanent solutions. 

Is raw water really flowing through the pipes in Jackson? How long will the water be unsafe to drink?

At a press conference Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves said “raw” water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir had been pumped through the drinking water system. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba later said this was inaccurate, and officials later clarified it is more accurate to say the water has not been optimally treated and is still not safe to drink.

Officials cannot say how long before water issues will be solved.

How long should I boil my water?

The recommends Jacksonians boil water vigorously for one minute and let cool before consuming.

Can I bathe in this water? Wash my hands?

Health officials say the water is safe to use for bathing and handwashing, but should not be consumed without boiling first for one minute.

Can I use my dishwasher if I still have water pressure?

The Mississippi State Department of Health has said to use boiled water to clean dishes.

What can I do to help?

The Community Foundation for Mississippi has compiled a helpful resource page that includes information about how to give to organizations working to help Jacksonians. Visit their resource page here. People can also contact the on ways to help at memainfo@.ms.gov.

How many people are impacted?

Officials don’t know how many households are impacted by low or no water pressure. Gov. Reeves said Tuesday it was impossible to say how many of the roughly 160,000 people served by the system are without water — that it depends on how close one is to a water tank, elevation and numerous other factors. But Jim Craig, director of health protection for the state health department, said that the O.B. Curtis plant, rated for 50 million gallons of water a day, on Tuesday was only pushing about 30 million gallons.

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

Biden declares emergency for Jackson water crisis

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President Biden declares emergency for Jackson water crisis

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced late Tuesday night that had approved an emergency declaration for the Jackson water crisis.

The drinking water system in Jackson — Mississippi’s largest city and home to more than 160,000 residents — is failing, state officials announced on Monday. Thousands of Jackson residents have no or little water pressure, and officials cannot say when adequate, reliable service will be restored.

Biden’s emergency declaration will scramble federal resources to assist local and state officials. Emergency protective measures, the White House said, will be provided at 75% federal funding for a period of 90 days.

“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population,” a White House press release said.

READ MOREMayor Lumumba says water connections being restored, welcomes state to the table

Biden’s decision will “provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures … to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in .”

Earlier on Tuesday, Jean-Pierre said that had been briefed on the Jackson water crisis situation.

READ MORE: ‘Won’t be solved overnight’: Gov. Tate Reeves gives update on Jackson water crisis

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

‘Won’t be solved overnight’: Reeves on Jackson water crisis

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‘Won’t be solved overnight’: Gov. Tate Reeves gives update on Jackson water crisis

Tractor-trailer loads of bottled water are rolling in, the state is rounding up some private contractors and a rented emergency pump should be running by Wednesday morning, but Gov. Tate Reeves said he can’t say when Mississippi’s capital city will have clean, plentiful drinking water on tap again.

“After the briefing I just received, things are not significantly worse today than they were yesterday,” Reeves said Tuesday afternoon after meetings at the city’s O.B. Curtis treatment plant and talking with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “They’re not significantly better, but we are seeing some progress and have some plans in place to see some more progress.”

The state, city and Mississippi’s health department all declared states of emergency Tuesday and Reeves called on to declare a federal one after announcements Monday that Jackson’s main water treatment plan was failing — again — after decades of neglected maintenance and recent from the Pearl River.

Thousands of homes and businesses in the capital city have little or no running water, and that after a month of residents being warned to boil it before drinking and years of warning that it contains harmful contaminants.

The Agency, health department and even National Guard are mobilizing to help with the issue. Reeves said the focus right now is getting drinking and non-potable water to residents and makeshift repairs to the plant. He vowed to work with the city and state lawmakers after to find more permanent solutions, but wouldn’t speculate what those might be. The current crisis — after a near citywide outage for weeks in 2021 after winter storms — has renewed calls for state intervention or even a take-over of the system.

Reeves and Craig said that as fixes are made at the plant, there is concern other things will break because of neglected maintenance — and the plant lacks “redundancy” and staff.

Reeves said Tuesday it was impossible to say how many of the roughly 160,000 people served by the system are without water — that it depends on how close one is to a water tank, elevation and numerous other factors. But Jim Craig, director of health protection for the state health department, said that the O.B. Curtis plant, rated for 50 million gallons of water a day, on Tuesday was only pushing about 30 million gallons. But, he said, some headway was made in filling water tanks to increase pressure. Officials said that of 10 tanks on the system, about half are at extremely low levels.

While he would not speak to long-term solutions, Reeves said that in addition to Lumumba, he also spoke with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and members of the city’s legislative delegation and vowed to work with them on long-term fixes once the current crisis is in hand. Lumumba in a presser earlier Tuesday said the city has struggled “alone” for years with infrastructure issues and “we are excited to finally welcome the state to the table.”

READ MORE: Mayor Lumumba says water connections being restored, welcomes state to the table

This would appear to be progress in what has been an icy relationship between the majority Black, majority Democratic capital city and the white Republican state leadership that runs most of state government from Jackson.

Director Stephen McCraney at the O.B. Curtis briefing said the state’s emergency team had been checking on 71 care facilities across the city making sure patients were OK and worked to secure drinking and non-potable water and water for firefighting. He said 10 tractor trailer loads of drinking water arrived Tuesday, and 108 more truckloads are en route. He said that by Thursday at noon, there will be seven “mega distribution sites” set up citywide that will be able to distribute 36 truckloads of water a day.

McCraney said Anheuser-Busch, , Sav-A-lot and other companies are donating water and that volunteer organizations are offering help. Those who want to help can email memainfo@.ms.gov for more information.

READ MORE: President Joe Biden briefed on Jackson water crisis

Reeves was questioned by press at the briefing about conflicting city and state statements or info, including Reeves’ statement Monday night that “raw” water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir had been pumped through the drinking water system. At his presser earlier Tuesday, Lumumba said this was inaccurate.

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Craig said, “There was water that was not optimally treated, is probably a more accurate way to put it.”

Reeves said, “Sometimes the answer is both-and, rather than either-or … It was somewhere between raw and not clean — which is not ideal.”

Reeves reiterated to Jacksonians: “Do not drink the water. To be clear, do not drink the water at this time.”

Craig clarified that people can drink the water after boiling it (the health department recommends a rolling boil of at least one minute), but should not consume it without boiling. He said it’s OK to bathe in it, but “don’t open your mouth while you’re in the shower,” and be especially careful that infants and those with compromised immune system don’t consume un-boiled water.

READ MORE: Here’s where to get water in Jackson

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

President Biden briefed on Jackson water crisis

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President Joe Biden briefed on Jackson water crisis

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that had been briefed on the Jackson water crisis and the federal government stands ready to assist.

The drinking water system in Jackson — Mississippi’s largest city and home to more than 160,000 residents — is failing, state officials announced on Monday. Thousands of Jackson residents already have no or little water pressure, and officials cannot say when adequate, reliable service will be restored.

READ MORE: Jackson water system is failing, city will be with no or little drinking water indefinitely

“At (Biden’s) direction, we have been in regular contact with state and local officials, including Mayor Lumumba, and made clear that the Federal Government stands ready to offer assistance,” Jean-Pierre tweeted on Tuesday.

She continued: “FEMA is working closely with the state officials to identify needs, and the EPA is coordinating with industry partners to expedite delivery of critical treatment equipment for emergency repairs at the City of Jackson water treatment facilities.”

The city water system has been plagued with problems for years, including tens of thousands of residents losing water between one and three weeks during a 2021 winter storm.

READ MORE: State health department declares drinking water emergency for Jackson

Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to assist on Tuesday, and the declared a public drinking water supply emergency.

“We will continue to partner closely with state and local officials to support the people of Mississippi, and stand ready to assist further as soon as we receive an official request from the state,” Jean-Pierre said.

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

In student loan argument, Gov. Reeves ignores Mississippi’s federal dependence

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In student loan argument, Gov. Reeves ignores Mississippi’s federal dependence

Gov. Tate Reeves took to social media recently to ask “why does the Democratic Party hate working people so much” after announced his limited student loan forgiveness program.

The first term governor surmised that the tax dollars of working Mississippians would be used to pay off the student loans taken out by “Harvard doctorate degree gender studies majors living in California.”

Individuals earning less than $125,000 or $250,000 for a family can have $10,000 of their student loan forgiven under the Biden plan. People who receive Pell grants (which provides financial help for the needy for undergraduate studies, not Harvard doctorate degrees) can get up to $20,000 forgiven.

People who attended college, but dropped out, perhaps due to financial hardships, can take advantage of the loan forgiveness. Those people certainly are not Harvard elites and are probably the working people the governor cited as being treated unfairly by the loan forgiveness.

Still, the governor makes a good point.

Under our system of government on the local, state and federal levels, people pay taxes for what is considered the greater good of the government and of society.

People who don’t have children in pay taxes because it is a benefit to society to have a good educational system. People pay taxes for restaurant inspections whether they eat out or not.

The list could go on of services that taxpayers pay for whether they use them or not.

Working Mississippians also are paying their taxes for expansion. But since the governor steadfastly refuses to allow the state to expand Medicaid, the Mississippi tax dollars are going to the other 38 states that have expanded Medicaid to provide insurance to primarily the working poor.

The tax dollars of working Mississippians also are going to help pay for rental assistance in other states since the governor is ending the state’s participation in an emergency rental assistance program designed to help the poor and those impacted by the pandemic. The governor will be sending more than $100 million in rental assistance funds back to the federal government.

But Reeves nor anyone else should be too concerned about Mississippi taxpayers subsidizing people in other states – those Harvard elites or anyone else. By multiple measurements, Mississippi is the beneficiary of federal tax dollars, not the subsidizer.

Mississippi ranks sixth nationwide in terms of federal spending per resident at $6,880, according to a 2022 study. Virginia, home to a large percentage of the federal work force, ranks first at $10,301 per resident, followed by Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia and Alaska.

New Jersey is last in federal spending per resident at a minus $2,368, followed by Massachusetts at minus-$2,343. California, the state where Reeves was afraid Mississippi tax dollars would go for the Harvard elites, garners minus-$12 in federal spending for each resident.

Using a different measurement — return on tax dollars — Mississippi gets $3.40 for each tax dollar sent to the federal government, according to a 2020 report. In that study, Mississippi trails only New Mexico, which gets $4.33 for each dollar it sends to the federal government, and West Virginia, which garners $3.74 for each dollar it directs to the federal government.

New Jersey gets 78 cents for each dollar its residents provide in federal taxes. The other states that get less than a dollar for each dollar sent to D.C. are Nebraska, Washington, Minnesota and Illinois.

Mississippi gets more federal spending than most states in part because it has the highest percentage of people living in poverty who qualify for various federal programs. Mississippi also has multiple federal military bases. Many, but not all, of the state’s farmers also are big winners in terms of federal subsidies.

The taxing system is set up to send funding to programs that political leaders believe are good for the betterment of the nation, state or local government. A big part of the nation’s political discourse centers around what those programs should and should not do.

But regardless of that discourse, Mississippi has and will continue to be a winner in terms of the federal government providing tax dollars to the state despite the Biden student loan forgiveness program.

If Reeves really wants to stick to those other states and those elites by taking more of their tax dollars, all he has to do is expand Medicaid.

That decision would provide Mississippi about $1 billion per year in additional federal taxes.

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

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