The Mississippi Legislature passed legislation to establish two separate grant programs to help small businesses throughout the state, totaling around $300 million, on Wednesday.
The first portion of the legislation directs a $2,000 payment to Mississippi businesses that had a business interruption due to COVID-19. The second portion of the legislation, the “2020 COVID-19 Mississippi Business 200 Assistance Act,” creates a grant program within the Mississippi Development Authority to allow small businesses (under 50 employees) that meet certain criteria to apply for grants through the “Back to Business Mississippi Grant Fund.”
Last week, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn joined Gov. Tate Reeves in his daily press conference to discuss the distribution of Mississippi’s CARES Act funds. Previously, the executive and legislature branches disagreed on who held the authority to spend the $1.25 billion CARES Act Coronavirus Relief funds sent to Mississippi.
Reeves believed that as the chief executive of the state, he held the power to expend federal emergency relief funds like those that Gov. Haley Barbour distributed during the Hurricane Katrina relief process. However, the legislature believed they had the constitutional authority to appropriate the funds. Because of this belief, the legislature passed legislation the week before the press conference transferring the CARES Act funds to a different account in order to buy time to debate how the funds are to be utilized. Before the legislation’s deadline for a gubernatorial veto, Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn agreed to work together to ensure relief will be distributed to Mississippians as quickly as possible. Based on current discussions, the present plan is to allow the legislature to appropriate the CARES Act funds and allow Reeves to facilitate the programs.
“We are grateful to our state leaders for agreeing to work together for the sake of Mississippians across the state,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “I look forward to seeing the plan they develop.”
The Senate used its present committees to debate the best use of the funds. On May 12, the Senate County Affairs and Municipalities committees had a joint meeting to hear from cities and counties on what extra expenses they incurred due to COVID-19. On the same day, the Senate Public Health & Welfare and Medicaid committees heard from UMMC and other hospitals on the hit they experienced due to COVID-19.
On May 13, the Senate Education and Universities & College committees met to discuss how COVID-19 funds could be used to facilitate distance learning for Mississippi’s educational system. One resounding message from this meeting was that connectivity to rural areas must be the beginning point of conversations. On May 14, the Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency and Interstate & Federal Cooperation committees heard from various emergency response organizations from the county level all the way to the Mississippi Emergency Management Association.
The House took a different approach in debating the best use of CARES Act funds. Gunn created a House Coronavirus Strategy Team that included the following committee chairs and members of the democratic caucus:
- Trey Lamar (Ways & Means)
- Sam Mims (Public Health)
- Scott Bounds (Public Utilities)
- Richard Bennett (Education)
- Casey Eure (Gaming)
- Becky Currie (Tourism)
- Angela Cockerham (Judiciary A)
- Charles Busby (Transportation)
- Manly Barton (Local & Private)
- Robert Johnson
- Shanda Yates
- Greg Holloway
- Jarvis Dortch
- John Hines
- Bryant Clark
- Percy Watson.
Additionally, existing committees are working together to think through the same issues. On May 13, the House Public Utilities and Education committees met to discuss ways the funds could be used expand broadband in Mississippi to be utilized in distance education. Public Utilities Chair Scott Bounds and Education Committee Chair Richard Bennett indicated their focus is rapid deployment of a plan by September 1. Mississippi Northern Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley testified at the hearing regarding the challenges the Federal Communication Commission’s coverage maps present on true coverage in the state, and Farm Bureau’s work in challenging those maps.
As of May 13, 2020, Mississippi reported 10,090 total cases of COVID-19 and 465 deaths from the virus.
On May 12, Reeves and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs announced that a surgical approach would be taken to dealing with COVID-19 as the state slowly begins to open. Leake, Neshoba, Attala, Scott, Jasper, Newton and Lauderdale counties are all experiencing a spread of the virus, so they will stricter orders than the rest of the state.
In other news:
- Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson outlined steps being taken by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to strengthen the state’s food supply chain in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Hosemann has been giving weekly Facebook Live updates every Friday that can be found here.
- Gunn has also been giving daily Facebook Live updates that can be found here.