Governor Reeves, Legislature at odds over CARES Act funding

*This story has been updated to include new information regarding the resumption of the 2020 Legislative Session 

Mississippi is set to receive $1.25 billion in COVID-19 relief funding from the CARES Act, and now, it appears that there’s a debate over who will decide the future of those funds.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, Governor Tate Reeves referenced a state statute with historical precedent allowing his office to distribute the funds that Mississippi receives from the federal government in times of emergency. Governor Reeves noted that this statute was followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’, and most recently, the ‘Restore Act’ following the BP oil spill.

A report from Mississippi Today claims that the leaders of the Legislature, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, are preparing for an early return to the capitol to work on legislation that would strip the Governor of the power awarded to him in the previously mentioned statute.

This afternoon, Governor Reeves was asked about the report and said that he’s determined to get aid to those in need as quickly as possible.

“I don’t really give a damn who is in charge of this money,” the Governor said. “What I care about is the people who need it and they need it now. We can’t develop a system where the people who need the money can not quickly access it. We cannot have a system that is not carefully constructed. We cannot afford any missteps…The bottom line is, we can’t allow politics and bureaucracy to cost Mississippians the money that they so badly need.”

The Governor also explained that the state must be flexible with the funds as they are unsure if the virus could return in the fall – causing further disruption to the state economy. The Governor repeatedly stated that the legislature will have input on how these funds are spent and that it will be a “collaborative” effort, but at the end of the day, he believes his office must be able to act swiftly.

“It is incredibly important that, in federal and state emergencies and disasters, we as the executive branch of government have to have the ability to do what a chief executive does, which is execute the laws passed by the legislature. They make the law, the executive branch executes the law. As it currently exists, it is very clear that the executive has the ability, and quite frankly has to have the ability, to expend those funds for the betterment of all Mississippians.”

Lawmakers were scheduled to return to the capitol on May 18th, but in a joint statement, Speaker Gunn and Lt. Gov. Hosemann announced that the 2020 session will resume Friday at 1 p.m. The leaders of each chamber have reportedly requested that the Department of Finance place a hold on all CARES Act funding that the state receives until the Mississippi Legislature can appropriate those funds.

Should the legislature pass a bill to change the current statute, Governor Reeves noted that he would have to read the language before deciding whether he would choose to veto the bill.

The CARES Act, the largest economic stimulus bill in history, was passed in late March in D.C. On Tuesday, the Governor provided an outline of his vision for Mississippi’s portion of the money.

  • To support the development of distance learning in Mississippi by ensuring more students have access to the tools necessary to participate.
  • To assist additional small businesses and keep employees on the payroll.
  • Help local governments that have incurred unplanned expenses.
  • Develop skills training programs for those who have been displaced by the virus.
  • Help pay for unbudgeted expenses in Mississippi’s unemployment system.

The funds cannot be used to make up for budget shortfalls at either the state or local level.