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SPLC Files Complaint Requesting U.S. Treasury Investigate Discriminatory Funding in Jackson Water Crisis

JACKSON, Miss. —The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of the Treasury on behalf of residents of Jackson, Mississippi, against the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the state of Mississippi for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Department of Treasury Title VI regulations of non-discrimination for benefits based on race, color or national origin due to discriminatory funding in the city’s recent water crisis.

“In 2021, Mississippi was given millions of dollars to address its numerous infrastructure challenges,” said SPLC Mississippi state director Waikinya Clanton. "Yet communities, like Jackson, still await receipt of allocated funding provided for in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Clean, safe, and drinkable water is a human right.

“The people of Jackson are suffering daily. Residents and business owners are paying a costly price for the gross negligence of state leadership. Jackson is a majority Black city, where some of the most vulnerable and most severely impacted communities live. This situation deserves a thorough look into the improper, discriminatory and negligent actions of the state.”

The Mississippi Legislature voted to allow cities like Jackson to apply for funding for water and sewer projects with a one-to-one match using their own direct ARPA funds, while smaller municipalities receiving less than $1 million in ARPA funds could request a two-to-one match. By determining municipalities may only receive ARPA funds through matching grants, the state calculated the amount of assistance it would provide based primarily on the amount of assistance municipalities can offer themselves rather than the amount of need. 

“The city of Jackson has repeatedly advised the state of its inability to pay for the $2 billion in estimated repairs to its water system,” said Crystal McElrath, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “Jackson is a city in great need, and we cannot ignore that this match system is designed to limit the amount of funds the City can request.”

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits entities that receive federal funding from engaging in activities that subject individuals to race discrimination. Because MDEQ and the state of Mississippi receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Treasury, they are bound by this prohibition against discrimination.  

"We request that the Treasury's Office of Civil Rights accept this complaint, investigate these allegations and ensure that MDEQ and the state of Mississippi eliminate the racially discriminatory effects which currently block much needed assistance to the Black residents of Jackson, Mississippi,” continued McElrath.

SPLC has worked to provide on-the-ground support to communities impacted by the Jackson water crisis. In partnership with over 30 other Mississippi-based grassroots organizations, SPLC has helped provide short-term water relief through water and water filters. SPLC and its partners have distributed over 4 million cases of water and hundreds of water filters and tests. The demand for water and water filters remains high in Jackson as it continues to struggle with the failing water infrastructure.