On Thursday, February 11, 85 concerned Mississippians gathered in the parish center at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson for the annual Catholic Day at the Capitol. Three issues were the focus of the advocacy gathering: adequate funding for the child welfare system in Mississippi; support for the maintenance of community-based mental health services; and raising adequate revenues to meet the State’s duties towards the common good.
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson welcomed the participants, reminding them of the remarks of Pope Francis to the U.S. Congress and his call to Christian responsibility for the common good. The Bishop also spoke from his own experience as godfather to a young woman adopted from the Pennsylvania foster care system and her struggles and those of her family to address childhood traumas.
Matthew Burkhart of Catholic Relief Services reminded participants of the call to Catholics to the “two feet” of social justice: individual acts of service to those in need and advocacy for greater justice for all those who are poor and vulnerable.
The panel that followed vividly described the plight of children and those needing mental health services: literal “atrocities” in a child welfare system under court order to institute major reforms; caseworkers shredding case files of children whom they were unable to serve; greater numbers of families “failing” within Mississippi’s economy; and multiple “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) such as abuse, neglect, hunger, and abandonment. Last year, there were 25,000 cases of abuse reported, but only 6,200 were “evidenced” (meaning there was a documented investigation) due to shortages of state workers. Thirty-five percent of Mississippi children live in poverty.
In recent years, Mississippi’s legislature has rebuffed efforts to increase significantly the funding for the child welfare system, rejecting the governor’s requests. Instead, lawmakers have approved various tax breaks and loopholes for corporations that have significantly decreased the corporate contributions to the tax base. The state relies heavily on regressive sales and property taxes where lower income families pay higher shares of their family income in taxes, as reflected in the table below.