Lawmakers allocate remainder of state’s CARES Act $ as session wraps up

Mississippi lawmakers have allocated the state’s $1.25 billion of federal funding from the CARES Act. 

An initial $300 million disbursement developed two small business relief programs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars left to be administered. Prior to wrapping up the 2020 session, lawmakers were able to decide on a spending package that will distribute the remaining funds to state agencies, cities and counties, and universities in addition to a few other entities.

According to Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, the funding breakdown is as follows: 

  •  $275 million for rural broadband & distance learning programs
  • $129,725,000 to hospitals, clinics, nonprofits, and childcare;
  • $40 million to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency;
  • $70 million to cities and counties;
  • $20 million to the Mississippi Department of Corrections;
  • $15 million to tourism;
  • $100 million to public universities and community and junior colleges;
  • $10 million to private schools and universities;
  • $55 million to workforce training;
  • $1 million to elections;
  • $2.5 million to the judiciary; and
  • $181,775,000 to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
  • $50 million to be used at the Governor’s discretion.

Governor Tate Reeves had previously urged lawmakers to put as much as $500 million into the trust fund to avoid a tax surge on small businesses. 

A more in-depth description of the $275 million for rural broadband and distance learning programs was provided by the lt. governor and can be seen below. 

“The “COVID-19 Connectivity Act,” Senate Bill 3046 authored by Senator Joel Carter, establishes a grant program to expand service in unserved or underserved areas.  The program makes $65 million available to Mississippi’s 26 member-owned electric cooperatives at a one-to-one match: for every dollar the co-ops spend, they will receive one federal dollar.  Ten million is available for other service providers.

House Bill 1788, establishing the “Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Grant Program,” provides $50 million to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) for grants to K-12 schools in areas without Internet connectivity.

Additionally, Senate Bill 3044, authored by Senator Dennis DeBar, appropriates $150 million to K-12 education to equip students with laptops and enhance distance learning in school districts across the State.  Three hundred thousand dollars will be allocated to MDE to upgrade its data collection system; $129,700,000 will be allocated to public school districts based on average daily membership; and $20 million will be allocated to MDE to be distributed to school districts based on need.”

During the extended session, legislators also passed a number of other important bills, including the bill to retire the now-former state flag. Other bills of note include: 

HB 1087 – A bill officially bringing an end to prohibition in Mississippi 

HB 1559 – A bill to improve efforts to assist victims of human trafficking 

HB 1295 – The ‘Life Equality Act of 2020’ to prohibit abortions from being performed because of race, sex or genetic abnormality except in a medical emergency.

SB 2594 – A bill extending Mississippi’s ‘Education Scholarship Account Program’ until 2024

SB 2725 – A bill to create the ‘Mississippi Hemp Cultivation Act’

Lawmakers finished their business at the capitol and could remain adjourned until October 5th as a result of the session-suspending resolution passed back in March. The resolution will allow lawmakers to return at any point between now and then if Lt. Governor Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn agree that it is necessary with the new sine die of October 10th. One reason they may have to return soon is the fact that they left without passing a budget appropriation bill for the Department of Marine Resources, a decision that Governor Reeves criticized on Twitter.