JACKSON • Gov. Tate Reeves on Friday unveiled a newly launched website that small business owners will eventually be able to use to apply for grant assistance money to help with the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first-term Republican governor said at a press conference that his office has been coordinating with the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development agency, to develop the website and the process for administering the program.

Around $240 million are available to small businesses. The Mississippi Legislature on May 15 set aside the money, which originally stemmed from federal coronavirus relief funds appropriated by Congress. Of the total funds, $40 million will go toward minority-owned or disadvantaged businesses.

“The team at MDA is reviewing the competitive bids to administer these funds – those were due today – and should have all the details out by the evening,” Reeves said. “Then, they can put out the application as soon as next week if all goes according to plans.”

To qualify for a grant, a business must have no more than 50 full-time employees, be in good standing with the secretary of state’s office and have a controlling interest owned by one or more Mississippi residents.

All of the eligibity requirements are on the website at www.backtobusinessms.org. Eligible businesses could receive anywhere from $1,500 to $25,000 in funds. All of the funds would be available through grants and businesses would not have to repay the money.

During the legislative process, some state lawmakers, including state Sen. Chad McMahan (R-Guntown), raised concerns that MDA would not be properly equipped to administer the program, which could lead to the agency being initially overwhelmed with applications.

Reeves told members of the press that his office and MDA have done everything it can to make sure the state is prepared for the application process.

“We are starting up a program from scratch that has never been done before,” Reeves said. “We know that there are going to be challenges in the early days.”

As part of the legislation, state lawmakers appropriated $900,000 for MDA to administer the program. The agency can use these funds to hire temporary staffers or a third-party agency to help oversee the implementation.

Reeves and other state officials have said that if any of the federal relief funds – including the $240,000 – are misspent, federal officials could demand the state repay the money. As part of that, state leaders have said that businesses can only use the money received to help offset expenses incurred because of the virus.

Reeves said the third-party administrator that will be hired to assist in overseeing the implementation of the program will do its best to do an audit “on the front end” to ensure the state will comply with federal guidelines.

The unveiling of the website comes at a time when the Mississippi State Department of Health reported its highest daily count of positive COVID-19 cases. According to the latest data from the department, 418 new people in the state have tested positive for the virus and 17 new people have died from complications related to the virus.

taylor.vance@journalinc.com

Twitter: @taylor_vance28

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