Jackson, Miss. (Clarion Ledger) – Mississippi lawmakers returned to the Capitol Thursday to discuss coronavirus relief funding and other legislation.
They reallocated tens of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding that hasn’t been spent. Much of the money was intended to help small businesses, but hasn’t been used.
Legislators have come and gone numerous times this year in order to hammer out coronavirus relief, budget issues, and to recover after dozens of members and staff got sick themselves.
But Friday will be the Legislature’s last day at the Capitol until the 2021 session. Lawmakers are set to complete most of their business by Thursday evening.
Here are updates from throughout the day.
The House passed bills that should financially help numerous businesses suffering during the pandemic — legislation that is now headed to Gov. Tate Reeves for his signature. The relief money will come from federal CARES Act relief funds that were initially intended for small businesses.
Key funding bills the Legislature passed today include:
- $10 million for hospitals to beef up their number of ICU beds, isolation rooms and negative pressure rooms, as they prepare for another surge of virus cases. The Department of Health will administer the program and determine which facilities receive funding.
- $10 million for state veterans’ homes, which have been hard-hit by coronavirus cases. The money will largely go toward personal protective equipment and additional nurses, lawmakers said.
- $10 million for farmers — including $3 million specifically for poultry and $500,000 for sweet potato farmers. Farmers will need to show they have suffered losses from the pandemic.
- $20 million for landlords. Under the bill, landlords can get up to $30,000 to cover losses they received after they were unable to evict renters who stopped paying during the pandemic. An amendment to the bill says commercial landlords can receive no more than 25% out of the $20 million in total relief.
Lawmakers plan to return briefly Friday morning. The full Legislature is not expected to return to the Capitol until the 2021 session, which will begin in early January.
7 p.m.: Senate passes hospital funding, landlord assistance, other virus-relief bills
The end of the 2020 legislative session appears to be closing in as senators late Thursday passed a series of coronavirus relief bills that had been working their way through both chambers.
A Senate bill that provides $10 million to expand hospital ICUs and isolation room capacity easily passed, and now heads to the House. An amendment to the bill stated that no single hospital can receive more than $2.5 million of the funds. The money will be prioritized for hospitals that can quickly build out more ICU capacity, said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
“Although the need right now for additional ICU beds is on the decline, there’s much concern about what’s going to happen this winter,” Bryan said of the prospect of a spike in coronavirus cases in Mississippi. He added he is more concerned about a new spike in cases after Gov. Tate Reeves lifted the state’s mask mandate on Wednesday.
The Senate also passed a bill that will give $20 million to landlords. Under the House legislation, landlords can get up to $30,000 to cover losses they received after they were unable to evict renters who stopped paying during the pandemic.
Senators also passed legislation offering automatic $2,000 CARES Act payments to certain small businesses that were not eligible before. And they passed a bill to improve the state’s radio system for first responders.
Lawmakers expect to complete their business for the year on Friday.
5 p.m.: No movement on virus relief bills
Despite a busy morning advancing several coronavirus relief bills, both chambers were mostly quiet this afternoon. They have yet to hold final votes on bills that would grant federal CARES Act money to hospitals, landlords, farmers, veterans facilities and others.
The House did pass HB 1814, which stipulates that any future leftover federal relief funds will be deposited into the state’s unemployment compensation fund at the end of this year. The state’s unemployment fund has been depleted after thousands of Mississippians were laid off due to the virus.
1 p.m.: Senate, House moving ahead with virus relief bills
Lawmakers are considering giving substantial COVID-19 relief funds to farmers, veterans facilities, hospitals and landlords under legislation introduced Thursday morning.
The Senate was considering a bill that would provide $10 million in CARES Act funds to hospitals to improve and expand their intensive care infrastructure — including adding more beds and negative pressure rooms. The Department of Health would divvy up the funds to hospitals under the plan.
Meanwhile, senators easily passed a pair of bills that would assist farmers and the Mississippi VA. The veterans bill would provide $10 million to the state agency that runs veterans’ homes throughout the state, assisting them in purchasing additional virus protective equipment such as masks, and hiring more nurses to care for residents. Several veterans’ homes have been hit hard by the virus. The agriculture bill would give $13 million in virus relief money to various types of farmers, with $3 million specifically for poultry and $500,000 for sweet potato farmers.
In the House, members were considering their own uses for CARES Act money that has thus far gone unused during the pandemic. They passed a $20 million rental assistance grant program, which would provide financial assistance up to $30,000 for landlords unable to evict renters during the pandemic. House Speaker Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, noted the landlords who get the money “can’t have it both ways” — if they evicted renters during the pandemic for nonpayment, they are not eligible for a grant.
The House also advanced legislation that would offer more automatic $2,000 CARES Act payments to certain small businesses that were not eligible before. Under the bill, newly-eligible businesses include athletic managers and agents, travel agencies, photo services, convention and trade show organizations, and more.