COVID-19 outbreak taking a toll on state’s budget

The COVID-19 outbreak will likely have a lasting impact on Mississippi’s economy. 

Around this time during a normal year, the Mississippi Legislature is beginning to wrap things up at the capitol, but this is not a normal year. The 2020 session is currently suspended, but that hasn’t stopped Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann from projecting what the outbreak could mean for the state budget as Mississippi prepares for a ‘shelter-in-place’ order to begin. 

“We’re down to sleeping about two hours a night and trying to figure out how we’re going to come up with a budget, and it’s not good. Our casinos are closed, our car manufactures are closed, our tire manufacturers are closed, our people are out of work,” he said. 

Currently, unemployment claims in the United States and Mississippi are surging. This past week, 6.6 million claims were filed across the country. In Mississippi, the Department of Employment Security is facing an overwhelming increase in claims. Officials continue to stress that when you do get through, you will receive your full benefits. In addition to relaxed requirements at the state level, provisions in the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill, expanded unemployment benefits across the country. 

Heading into the pandemic, Mississippi’s rainy day fund was filled to the brim at $554 million. When asked if that will be enough to make it through this, Hosemann replied, “We’ll find out”. 

State health officials have warned that the number of cases will likely rise in the coming weeks. With no end to the pandemic in sight, the state’s future budget could continue to suffer. Like the rest of the country, Hosemann said that officials are “predicting significant downturns in the state economy”. 

With that said, the Lt. Governor explained that they will not be able to put a budget together until June. As for the virus’ effect on the final numbers, Hosemann offered his thoughts. 

“I need the hard numbers, but I can look around and see that we’re going to have significant losses, and I’m not talking about $10 million, I’m talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.

The 2020 session was originally scheduled to resume on April 1st, but that was pushed back. Lawmakers will eventually return to the capitol, but there is not a current target date. When they do gavel back in, Hosemann wants to see three important issues become a priority. 

“You start with the fact that we have to make sure we have a healthy Mississippi, an educated Mississippi and a safe Mississippi, and then we start adding on from there,” he said.

Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn will consult with state health experts to determine when it is safe for the session to continue. 

Check out the full interview with the Lt. Governor below: