Supervisors navigating stimulus fund use

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 13, 2021

The new $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief package includes funds that target counties and municipalities, but Pearl River County officials will have to wait to spend that money to make sure their spending choices adhere to state law.

The stimulus package includes direct stimulus payments of $1,400 for most Americans and extends an unemployment insurance supplement of $300 per week.

Along with sending money to K-12 schools, expanding the child tax credit and putting money toward vaccine distribution, the relief package includes $350 billion for state and local governments.

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Pearl River County is slated to receive $10.6 million in direct aid from the federal government, said County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin.

Within 60 days of President Joe Biden signing the stimulus package into law, which he did Thursday, the county can expect a check from the federal government for half of the amount, or $5.7 million, Lumpkin said.

The problem for county leaders is that it’s unclear what the funds can be used for, said Lumpkin, because the guidance in the bill is broad. Some of the things allowed in the federal legislation also go against what Mississippi law allows the county government to do.

The county governments will have to wait on more specific guidance from the Department of Treasury before deciding how to spend the funds, said Lumpkin.

The county was able to use previous COVID-19 relief funds to get reimbursed for salary costs for law enforcement and emergency workers, he said.

The federal legislation allows county governments to respond to COVID-19’s impacts by providing economic assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits or aiding impacted industries like tourism, travel and hospitality.

However, county governments are not allowed to make donations to households in Mississippi, Lumpkin said, and Pearl River County’s government does not have the staff to distribute grants or verify income.

Lumpkin said that it is possible county governments might be able to work with planning and development districts to help certain businesses.

The federal legislation also allows local governments to invest in infrastructure like water, sewer or broadband.

District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday said he’d like to see if the funds can be used to expand water services in the county. Lumpkin said the county might be able to use some of the money to give water associations grants to expand.

“I do think we’re going to have to get creative to use the money on ways that we have not done before,” Lumpkin said.

The state of Mississippi is expected to receive $1.8 billion. Counties in Mississippi will get a share of $577 million, metro cities will receive a portion of $97 million and small towns will get part of $258 million. No Republicans in Congress voted in favor of the relief bill.