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Mississippi legislature votes for business grants amid virus

Mississippi legislators voted late Wednesday to create grant programs for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, using some of the $1.25 billion in relief money that the federal government is sending the state.

Posted: May 14, 2020 5:25 AM
Updated: May 14, 2020 9:42 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators voted late Wednesday to create grant programs for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, using some of the $1.25 billion in relief money that the federal government is sending the state.

The total pricetag for the grants would be $300 million.

If Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signs the proposal into law, a $60 million program would provide $2,000 grants for businesses that were forced to closed by government orders and for child care centers.

The other $240 million would be for grants ranging from $1,500 to $25,000. For the first 21 days, the only applications considered would be from businesses that did not receive aid from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Josh Harkins said businesses will have to follow guidelines from the U.S. Treasury Department on using the money.

“The state's on the hook for any monies that are misspent,” said Harkins, a Republican from Brandon.

The programs would be for businesses that existed before March 1 and have 50 or fewer employees. Businesses that work in partisan politics or in lobbying are not eligible to apply.

Reeves has previously said he wants to use some of the federal relief money to help businesses. He feuded with fellow Republicans who lead the Legislature over who has power to spend the federal money. Legislators said the state constitution gives them spending power, while Reeves said a 40-year-old state law gives the governor some spending power during emergencies.

Reeves eventually did an about-face and said legislators could have a say in spending the federal relief money, but he wanted to quickly help businesses.

Hours before the legislative debate on Wednesday, Reeves announced that as of June 1, landlords can again start evicting tenants. He suspended evictions several weeks ago because people were losing jobs during the pandemic.

“I want to give everyone enough time for people to get the money that they need together to make a rent payment if you have fallen behind,” Reeves said.

Although unemployment remains high, Reeves has been gradually allowing businesses to reopen, including restaurants, barber shops and hair salons. He said he hopes the two-month suspension has helped people get through the “most painful time.”

“We have to recognize that housing doesn't just happen and it doesn't grow on trees and we cannot suspend evictions forever," Reeves said.

Reeves's announcement about evictions came a day after the state Public Service Commission said it is extending its order that bans utilities from cutting off customers' water, sewer, electricity and gas services for nonpayment. The two-month order had been set to expire this week, and it was extended until May 26. The commission said customers who owe money should arrange to make payments.

Mississippi legislators on Wednesday also heard from state education leaders about challenges that schools, community colleges and universities have faced since in-person classes were suspended in mid-March because of the pandemic.

State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said some schools were better prepared than others to offer online classes. She said parts of the state lack high-speed internet access, some students have no access to computers and others must share devices with others in their family.

“There has never been a better opportunity for this state to address the inequities that exist,” Wright said.

With the possibility that school will be disrupted by another outbreak of COVID-19 in the fall or by other events such as hurricanes, Wright said, Mississippi needs a long-term plan to improve access to distance learning. She said the state also needs to ensure that teachers are using high-quality programs that meet rigorous academic standards.

“Their future is not going to be in front of an individual teacher all the time," Wright said. “It is going to be online as well as what they are getting in the classroom.”

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 10,090 confirmed cases and 465 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 182 cases and eight deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The Health Department said Wednesday that at least 100,048 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Tuesday. The department said at least 1,267 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 212 virus-related deaths in those facilities.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 61125

Reported Deaths: 1711
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5209106
DeSoto328027
Madison228154
Rankin212428
Harrison209832
Jackson192934
Jones176557
Forrest163153
Washington148032
Lauderdale132388
Lee123230
Neshoba119487
Lamar111512
Oktibbeha105235
Lowndes97332
Warren96426
Scott95317
Bolivar93932
Copiah90924
Panola90711
Sunflower90622
Lafayette8699
Holmes84347
Leflore83259
Pike82632
Grenada81220
Yazoo77311
Leake76725
Lincoln74339
Wayne73221
Pontotoc7247
Simpson71126
Monroe69750
Coahoma65910
Tate64523
Marion59918
Adams58025
Covington57811
Winston57115
Marshall5668
George5415
Union51913
Newton51611
Attala49524
Tallahatchie49310
Pearl River48236
Walthall44218
Chickasaw43519
Noxubee41710
Claiborne40013
Smith37713
Jasper3758
Calhoun3748
Clay36814
Alcorn3544
Prentiss3376
Hancock32614
Tishomingo3163
Yalobusha31610
Lawrence3135
Itawamba30710
Tippah30412
Clarke29825
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26911
Tunica2656
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Perry2217
Quitman2211
Amite2105
Jefferson Davis1986
Webster19712
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18712
Sharkey1801
Stone1483
Choctaw1264
Benton1240
Franklin1142
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 89927

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
Etowah191425
DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
Limestone118313
St. Clair118212
Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
Bullock43711
Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
Conecuh37110
Bibb3643
Pickens3639
Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
Crenshaw2843
Choctaw27312
Henry2433
Greene24011
Cherokee2337
Geneva2260
Clay2165
Lamar1942
Fayette1695
Cleburne1141
Coosa902
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