Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann on Thursday sat down with local officials, students, teachers, and business owners in Hancock County to discuss the dispursement of the American Rescue Act funds.
Hosemann said that $5.6 billion is being sent to Mississippi.
“In that sum of money, we can do things for water, sewer, tourism, economic issues, and broadband,” he said. “You’ll get regulations that will come out.”
Of that $5.6 billion, Hosemann said, $1.6 billion will go to education.
“How our local school districts spend that money is critical,” he said. “Not just for these young men and women here, but for the future, the next generation after them, their children’s children.”
He said that $1.8 billion comes to the state of Mississippi, which he said the legislature will have to decide how to spend those funds.
There will be $932 million for cities and counties, Hosemann said.
“So when you add all of that up, between the cities and the counties and the state, we have disposable, about $2.7 billion,” he said. “So how we structure the next three years, it’s supposed to be utilized by Dec. 31, 2024,” he said. “So how we structure the remaining parts of this will probably be the most critical decision that governing bodies and boards of supervisors and mayors in city hall will make. Never before have we had that and never before has the need been as great for us to work for that. We are going to be challenged, because everybody’s going to have some short-term expenditure that they’re really going to like. This money is not for that. This money is for long-term transitional, not for one or two years, but one or two generations.”
In addition to the American Rescue Act funds, Hosemann said that there is going to be another transportation bill, of which the state will get about one percent of the funds.
“We could get billions of dollars,” he said. “How we coordinate that effort is critical. Each and every one of us has to spend time on getting prepared for that.”
Hosemann said that the city and county funds will come prior to Jan. 1, the first half of the funds.
Hosemann encouraged city and county leaders to begin planning and prioritizing now.
“I would encourage you to do your environmental study work, your county engineer work, whatever you’re going to do, leading up to the expenditure of those funds beginning in January, February, and March. You need to have your proposals ready for the members of the legislature to consider by then.”
Hosemann stressed that leaders submit projects that they “really” need.
He added that he has discussed with other officials throughout the state that there will be capacity issues, considering that other states will be receiving funding with the same restrictions: Water, sewer, tourism, and broadband.
“So all of them are going to start looking for products to accomplish that goal,” he said. “There’s only so many people to work, there’s only so many people to build a road, so many people to build a water tank. So the quicker we get started with a plan we’re going to stick with for these next years, the better off we’re going to be.”
Hosemann encouraged elected officials to get started.
“Have a vision, pick your projects, the ones that will really make a difference,” he said “Where’s our growth at? Where do we want to lay water and sewer in the future so when we have people that come back to work here, they’re going to be able to build their house out here. Those vision decisions that we in Mississippi have really never had the money to do that. We’ve always been tight on money. So this is an opportunity to build out where they are going to come.”
Hosemann gave a brief rundown of what the legislature accomplished this year.
“We spent a lot of money on education,” he said. “We raised teachers’ salaries this past year. We put in a math program. We put in a computer program. We funded $700,000 to teach our teachers how to teach computer. The best economic development engine that we have is the human brain. Those are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Hosemann said they accomplished that by organizing all technical education into one group.
Technical skill ranges all across the board from HVAC to welders to whatever might be needed around the state, he said.
“It’s very important that we begin the process of having our technical education combined with our normal eduction that we do here,” he said. “I have proposed that it be part of the accountability model. What that means is that the presidents and the people that run this school system here will get credit for having people that have a technical skill. For example, if you can come out of this school and do computer coding, you make more than the Lt. Gov. does.”
Hosemann said that last year’s CARES Act had a “significant, positive effect” on Mississippi.
“It was handled well by members of the Legislature,” he said. “Every child in public education got an iPad or Chromebook. Every single one, 400,000 of them. We fixed ICU beds for Singing River Hospital, for Gulfport Memorial. We did Broadband. We expanded Broadband by $150 million. Thousands and thousands of homes have Broadband where kids can read, get their homework assignments, and really they’re hooked up to the world. But equally as important, was the fact that we did it where businesses can profit by being out in rural Mississippi.”