Local governments and schools in Monroe County are among recipients of Mississippi’s approximate $6 billion share of the American Rescue Plan. Congress passed the $1.9 trillion stimulus package in March, which included $350 billion for states and local governments nationwide.
At this point, regulations for the spending are still being worked out by the U.S. Department of Treasury, but guidelines for counties and municipalities, for example, include infrastructure improvements for water, sewer and broadband.
“You talk about a huge undertaking. It’s not like every city in Monroe County or every county in Three Rivers’ region gets funding, it’s everybody. It’s a massive undertaking, and there will be a lot of project activity once that money is allocated, whether it be water, sewer, broadband or hospitals or emergency management or whatever it may be,” said John Byers, community and economic development director for Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “Hopefully it will really help get things back kickstarted and get some construction projects going and get some people working. If they’re doing a project in Smithville or Aberdeen, they’re spending their dollars there, so it should benefit a lot of people.”
Even though an influx of millions of dollars is anticipated locally, local leaders have yet to receive official notification or further clarity.
"We know of approximately $165 million but we're waiting on guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department. All-in-all, we don't know yet," said Mississippi Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of broadband improvements.
Members of the Monroe County Board of Supervisors mentioned in a recent meeting the county government’s share, which totals $6,840,000, according to reports.
“We haven’t gotten a thing as far as my office is concerned. One or two of the supervisors mentioned something about it, but I haven’t gotten any correspondence about it,” said county chancery clerk Ronnie Boozer.
For local municipalities, Aberdeen is poised to receive $1,170,000, while Amory’s share is $1,530,000, Nettleton’s is $430,000, Smithville’s is $170,000, Hatley’s is $100,000, and Gattman’s is $20,000, according to reports.
In Mississippi, some larger metropolitan areas will receive direct payments from the U.S. Treasury. For Monroe County’s recipients, Byers said the money will flow most likely through the state.
“More than likely, that will go to the department of finance administration in Jackson and then at that point, it would distribute the money directly to the cities and counties. The money that’s allocated is going to come in two stages,” Byers said.
Counties and cities should have access to funds by early summer, and the second round should be accessible by early summer 2022.
Restrictions on use of spending include responding to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts; providing premium pay to eligible workers who provide essential work; for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue of the locality due to COVID-19; or to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure, according to an American Rescue Plan summary by full retail service and community development consulting firm Retail Strategies.
“From the cities’ standpoints, it’s a no-brainer; we can put this on water, sewer or broadband. That’s in the law. The rest of it is up to interpretation, but it depends on what the treasury does,” Byers said. “Congress put in a huge chunk of accountability and transparency measures on this money, so it will be looked at from a lot of different angles.”
According to the Retail Strategies summary, funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024. Byers is unsure if that date reflects project completion dates or contract dates.
“Some of the details are still being worked out as far as the eligible uses of the money. The funds will flow through the U.S. Department of Treasury. They are tasked with the guidelines and methods to meet the intent of the law with that. My understanding is they have 60 days from when the bill passed, which was March 11. In essence, in that 60-day time period, they’re going to be establishing guidelines of what can be done and what cannot be done and how the money will flow,” Byers said, adding he expects more clarity to be released within the next 30 to 45 days.
He is unsure if allowed usage will be expanded or not. He’s also unclear if projects have to be approved by state officials or not or if they’ll just direct local governments to spend funds within the guidelines.
“We appreciate anything we can get. We have several infrastructure projects we can apply the funding to once it gets here, depending on what the funding amount is when it gets here,” said Amory Mayor Brad Blalock, adding he has not received an official notice regarding funding.
The American Rescue Plan also includes $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.
There is also financial assistance available through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, totaling $28.6 billion in grants. According to information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, restaurant and bar owners may apply for the grants based on lost gross revenue between 2019 and 2020.
To apply, restaurant owners should register at www.sam.gov/SAM by creating a user account and beginning the process of signing up for an account number. Applicants are advised to work with their accountants in preparing paperwork detailing gross revenue loss for the appropriate time period.