JACKSON • The Mississippi Legislature late Wednesday night passed a bill that provides $300 million to small businesses in the state that have been adversely impacted by the novel coronavirus.
“We’ve said from the beginning that we believe the critical foundation of restarting our economy begins with small businesses in Mississippi,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Thursday at a press conference. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy.”
Of those total funds allocated, $60 million is set aside for businesses that were forced to temporarily close down under orders from state and local government. These businesses would directly receive immediate payments of $2,000 and would not have to apply for the money.
Businesses that fall under this program are gyms, barber shops, hair salons and dance studios. The Department of Revenue and the Department of Finance and Administration will administer this program.
The remaining $240 million will go to businesses that have faced an interruption in business from the virus. Additionally, $40 million of these funds will go toward minority-owned or disadvantaged businesses. These businesses will have to apply for the funds that would be available, which would range from $1,500 to $25,000. All of the funds would be available through grants and businesses would not have to repay the money.
The bill defines eligible businesses as having no more than 50 employees, being in good standing with the secretary of state’s office and having existed in the state as of March 1.
Business owners cannot spend any of the funds they receive to make up for lost revenue. They can spend the funds on rent and payroll.
Both chambers of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the legislation in a bipartisan manner. No lawmaker from Northeast Mississippi in either chamber opposed the measure, even though some had previously raised concerns about details in earlier versions of the bill.
“This legislation did not include everything I wanted for our companies, but it includes most of the features and benefits I hoped to get for our small micro-businesses,” state Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, said in a social media post.
Now that the bill has been passed by the Legislature, it heads to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to either sign into law or veto. Representatives of Reeves’ office worked with legislative leaders on crafting portions of the legislation, which would likely mean he will sign the measure into law.
Despite this, Reeves would not say at a press briefing Thursday if he intends to sign the bill into law. He did say he and his policy and legal advisers would review the bill as they do with other bills.
“We certainly are aware in general terms what’s in the bill,” Reeves said. “The two programs are very similar to the things we’ve been talking about and proposed over the last several weeks.”
The application process of the grant money would be administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, which is the state’s economic development agency.
Some lawmakers at a hearing last week raised concerns that they were afraid MDA would be overwhelmed with applications similar to how the Mississippi Department of Employment Security was overwhelmed with calls from people seeking to gain unemployment insurance because of the virus.
In the bill, the Legislature set aside $900,000 for MDA to administer the funds. When asked if Reeves had engaged in conversations with MDA leaders on how to administer the funds efficiently, he was scant on details.
“Those are all questions we will be answering over the next several days as we look to the specifics in the bill,” Reeves said.
The small business relief funds stem from $1.25 billion the state received in federal coronavirus relief funds. This week, lawmakers discussed other ways to spend the remaining funds such as local governments, hospitals and educational institutions for distance learning. Lawmakers will continue the discussions later next week.