/Q&A What are lawmakers doing to address coronavirus recovery

Q&A What are lawmakers doing to address coronavirus recovery

Mississippi Today answered a few frequently asked questions. Congress passed the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act in March. The $2 trillion fund will be used to help relief efforts. Mississippi received $1.25 Billion. A separate $800 million was provided for state agencies responding to the coronavirus. These include the Emergency Management Agency, Department of Health, and education entities. The Mississippi Legislature won’t try to re-appropriate these funds. The $1.25 million the Legislature is appropriating to the state is an independent pot of money with broad latitude regarding how it can be used to fight the coronavirus. The money cannot be used for revenue replacement due to the continuing economic slowdown. Who decides how federal funds are spent? At first, Gov. Tate Reeves claimed he was the sole person with the authority to spend stimulus funds. However, the Mississippi Legislature has recently returned to the Capitol and passed legislation giving them the power to decide how to spend the funds. While the governor will have some input in decision-making, it will ultimately be lawmakers who will allocate the funds. How will the Legislature spend $1.25 billion? While legislative leaders are still figuring out how to distribute these funds, they have stated that their priorities include small businesses, broadband access expansion, and distance education for schools. Other areas of focus include helping hospitals to recover from financial pressures caused by coronavirus losses and revenue loss, as well as helping to offset the costs incurred by cities and counties due the pandemic. Are the $1.25 Billion dollars different from the Paycheck Protection Program funds (PPP) that Congress appropriated to pay for the pandemic? Yes. Yes. The CARES Act includes several programs that address COVID-19. Small businesses can apply for federal PPP loans to continue paying their employees, as well as other obligations like rent and utilities. If the loans are not used as intended, they will be forgiven. The state Legislature’s small business program is designed to grant grants to small businesses who, for different reasons, were not eligible for federal PPP aid. Many smaller businesses weren’t able to receive assistance through the PPP. Mississippi companies who received assistance through the PPP can also apply for grants through the state program. However, the priority will go to those that didn’t receive PPP funding. Mississippi small businesses can expect financial assistance from Congress. Yes. Yes. Although details are still being worked out, they expect to transfer $100 million of federal funds to a bill that will allow small Mississippi businesses to be eligible for relief money. What will the Mississippi Legislature do to other programs under the CARES Act. No. No. The CARES Act provides enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week. Mississippi lawmakers will not affect these benefits. However, they may try to pass legislation that would make the Employment Security Agency more efficient when responding to unemployment claims. What is the Legislature doing, if any, to address the difficulties Mississippians have in getting to the state unemployment office? The Senate Economic and Workforce Development Committee hosted a hearing for Jackie Turner (executive director of the state Department of Employment Security) to discuss her agency’s efforts regarding unemployment benefits. Senators recognized the problems with the department’s phone lines and inability to deliver benefits on time. Although lawmakers say they are examining the issue to determine if legislative action is necessary, no action has been taken. The Legislature will continue its work on the coronavirus before it adjourns. Yes. According to the original calendar, 2020’s legislative session was supposed to be completed — or sine die, as it is known. The original calendar stated that the 2020 legislative session should be completed by March 18, but safety concerns regarding the coronavirus forced the Legislature to reschedule. Although the new deadlines are still being finalized, the budget will likely be complete sometime in June before the new fiscal year starts on July 1. In the weeks ahead, the Legislature will also consider bills that were in consideration before the coronavirus struck. It is likely that the Legislature will not take up as many bills as they would if the coronavirus hadn’t struck. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.