Mississippi leaders clash over spending virus relief money

The state Legislature is returning to the Capitol on Friday to restart its session.

Posted: Apr 30, 2020 5:22 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Legislature will restart is session Friday as top lawmakers and Gov. Tate Reeves argue over who has power to spend more than a billion dollars the federal government is sending the state to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans who lead the House and Senate say the Mississippi Constitution gives spending authority to the Legislature. But Reeves, a Republican, says a state law enacted decades ago gives the governor some spending power during emergencies.

The conflict could play out in the next several days as legislators return to the Capitol to resume their session that's been on hold since mid-March because of the pandemic.

“We can't allow politics and bureaucracy to cost Mississippians the money that they so badly need,” Reeves said during a news conference Thursday.

Mississippi is receiving $1.25 billion from a federal relief package already approved by Congress, with some of it designated for the Health Department. If more federal money is approved in the future, that could also be affected by the fight over spending power.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn had announced earlier this week that the Legislature would return to the Capitol on May 18, but plans changed because of the money fight. They sent a letter to the acting director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, Liz Welch, telling her to put the $1.25 billion on hold.

“This letter is to inform you the Mississippi Legislature will be in session shortly to plan the constitutional appropriation of these funds to address Mississippi's immediate and future needs in responding to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis,” it said.

Mississippi is not alone in clashes among top elected officials. In neighboring Louisiana, Republican state lawmakers are considering putting limits on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards's emergency decision-making powers amid frustration over his extension of a stay-at-home order in one of the states hardest hit by the virus.

Reeves has said he plans to reopen Mississippi's economy in steps. In response to questions during a news conference Thursday, Reeves said it's possible Mississippi casinos could reopen before Memorial Day, which kicks off the summer tourist season. But, he said there will be requirements for social distancing and there probably will be limits on card games to try to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The U.S. is seeing its highest unemployment since the Great Depression. Mississippi processed 201,890 claims for unemployment benefits between March 14 and the week that ended Saturday, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.

The agency said 35,843 of the claims in Mississippi were made during the most recent week of the reporting period, down 3% from the previous week. Reeves has said the state typically receives fewer than 1,000 unemployment claims a week.

Reeves eased some business restrictions this week, allowing some to reopen with limits on how many customers may be present.

The state Health Department said Thursday that Mississippi had at least 6,815 confirmed cases and 261 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. That was an increase of 246 cases and 11 deaths from the previous day. The state’s population is about 3 million.

The number of 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, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The Health Department said Thursday at least 66,000 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi. The department did not release the number of cases confirmed at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Its website said the numbers would return Friday.

The governor's “safer at home” order started Monday, replacing a stricter stay-at-home order that was in place for more than three weeks. The new order remains in effect until the morning of May 11. In addition to letting more businesses reopen, it allows physicians to start offering some services that had been limited in recent weeks. Restaurants are still restricted to carry-out or delivery. Barber shops, salons, tattoo parlors and entertainment venues such as movie theaters remain closed. Gatherings of 10 or more people are still banned.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814025

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1140561910
Mobile722691323
Madison52017686
Shelby37304341
Baldwin37087540
Tuscaloosa34966599
Montgomery33971725
Lee23149240
Calhoun22159470
Morgan20659372
Etowah19764496
Marshall18254300
Houston17310405
St. Clair15921337
Cullman15325290
Limestone15222198
Elmore15086284
Lauderdale14157294
Talladega13723272
DeKalb12574259
Walker11089366
Blount10102174
Autauga9901146
Jackson9793180
Coffee9182189
Dale8864181
Colbert8791200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6743127
Covington6685179
Chilton6592160
Russell626158
Franklin5935105
Chambers5560142
Marion4958126
Dallas4889199
Clarke473482
Pike4720105
Geneva4564126
Winston4476101
Lawrence4266117
Bibb421786
Barbour355675
Marengo334089
Monroe330462
Randolph327663
Butler324894
Pickens313982
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300057
Fayette290979
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240767
Macon230762
Lamar217846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178838
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167738
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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