JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Hospitals, veterans' centers, farmers and landlords in Mississippi would receive money to respond to the coronavirus pandemic under bills passed by state lawmakers Thursday night.
Members of the Mississippi House and Senate returned to the Capitol on Thursday to reallocate some of the COVID-19 relief money the state received from the federal government.
Like many other states, Mississippi received $1.25 billion from Congress to respond to the pandemic.
Mississippi lawmakers initially put $300 million into a program to aid small businesses. Officials have said the state received fewer requests than expected for the business aid. Some business owners have said the state has been slow in responding to their applications.
One of the bills passed Thursday would set aside $13 million for agriculture operations, including poultry farms that have lost at least one flock during the pandemic.
Separate bills would make $10 million available to hospitals for improvements to intensive care units and $10 million to the state Veterans Affairs Board. Republican Sen. Dennis DeBar of Leakeville said nurses from veterans' homes have left for better pay at other places.
Legislators also passed $20 million to help residential or commercial landlords with lost rental income. The program would only be available to those who have not evicted people who were unable to pay rent between March 1 and Dec. 30.
“You can’t be participating in the program and evict somebody," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, a Republican from West.
Landlords would be able to seek a maximum grant of $30,000, which would be exempt from income tax. Only 25% of the total $20 million package can go to commercial landlords, while the rest must go to residential, according to lawmakers.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves banned evictions in Mississippi early in the pandemic, but that prohibition expired at the start of June. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order Sept. 1 banning evictions of people who lost work because of the pandemic, but advocacy groups have expressed concern that evictions are still happening.
During the debate of the legislation, Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville asked if the program could help renters. He asked: “Can that particular individual who has been evicted, if they have proof, can they apply for some of that rental assistance?”
White said the bill does not address evicted tenants.
“That’s a different legal issue,” White said.
Mississippi legislators usually finish their annual session by March or April, but the pandemic upended those plans this year. Legislators took an extended break starting mid-March, soon after the virus was first detected in the state. They rearranged their work deadlines and returned for several days in May and June and one day in August. Going into Thursday, they had two work days remaining before the session expires.