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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.

Cases: 297321

Reported Deaths: 6805
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19814231
Hinds18949395
Harrison16886282
Rankin12842265
Jackson12750234
Lee9720163
Madison9516204
Jones8035148
Forrest7289138
Lauderdale6872228
Lowndes6061140
Lamar593381
Lafayette5767114
Washington5232130
Bolivar4630124
Oktibbeha443095
Panola433698
Pearl River4212132
Warren4144115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405995
Monroe3996129
Union397174
Neshoba3848171
Lincoln3624104
Hancock352978
Leflore3400121
Sunflower320986
Tate303974
Pike302697
Scott296171
Alcorn292763
Yazoo292066
Itawamba290675
Coahoma283069
Tippah280065
Copiah279959
Simpson277581
Prentiss271258
Marion258878
Wayne255641
Leake254172
Covington250280
Grenada248878
Adams235778
George232745
Newton232753
Winston222179
Jasper214145
Tishomingo213266
Attala206971
Chickasaw201954
Holmes182870
Clay179452
Stone173429
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170773
Calhoun158628
Smith153833
Yalobusha145736
Greene128133
Walthall125441
Montgomery123540
Noxubee123431
Perry123235
Lawrence121421
Carroll119425
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99824
Claiborne99030
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper91423
Quitman77514
Franklin76420
Choctaw70117
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62727
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 499411

Reported Deaths: 10149
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719951403
Mobile36396741
Madison32674469
Tuscaloosa24391423
Montgomery22789523
Shelby22250219
Baldwin19915289
Lee15070161
Calhoun13961296
Morgan13785255
Etowah13413327
Marshall11458215
Houston10121264
Elmore9509190
Limestone9435139
St. Clair9050228
Cullman8993183
Lauderdale8628214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7643165
Walker6600260
Jackson6551104
Autauga634492
Blount6252128
Colbert6007121
Coffee5261104
Dale4680107
Russell407534
Franklin400779
Covington3996107
Chilton3911104
Escambia379473
Tallapoosa3637143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3428142
Pike292973
Marion288796
Lawrence285787
Winston258568
Bibb246058
Marengo244657
Geneva240270
Pickens225757
Barbour213851
Hale212569
Fayette202657
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165141
Washington157036
Macon147845
Crenshaw146755
Clay146254
Cleburne140141
Lamar133933
Lowndes133151
Wilcox123225
Bullock117736
Conecuh107224
Perry106427
Sumter100832
Coosa90324
Greene88732
Choctaw55723
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