Small Local Governments in Mississippi Face Challenges in Accessing State and Federal Relief Funds for their Communities
October 14th, 2020
Our last blog highlighted failures in the distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds for local governments in Louisiana for rural communities, communities of color, and areas of persistent poverty. The State of Mississippi has enacted a similar program and small, rural counties and municipalities are also facing challenges in accessing these funds to meet their communities’ needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mississippi, like Louisiana, Alabama, and many others states, created a program to provide local governments with a portion of the Coronavirus Relief Funds provided to the State via the Federal government in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The challenge explored here is the fact that these funds are distributed to local governments on a reimbursement basis only.
Mississippi’s CARES Act funding for local governments was designed to help pay for unexpected expenses counties and municipalities have incurred as they work to meet the needs of their communities. The Mississippi Legislature created the program earlier this year with an allocation of $70 million of the state’s $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds for the program. The application window for local governments to apply for these funds was Aug. 3 through Oct. 15.
The funds are administered by the MS Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and allocated to each county and municipality based on their share of the state’s population. However, the funds are only available via reimbursement, thus, in order to access the funds, counties and municipalities must have already made the eligible expenditures. Many small municipalities and rural counties, especially those in low income communities, experience challenges funding their day-to-day operations and may be unable to benefit from these funds without help.
In Alabama, a similar program was enacted and presented a challenge for many cities and counties that did not have the available funds to make the needed pandemic-related purchases up front. HOPE partnered with The Black Belt Community Foundation to design a recoverable program to address those communities’ need to access capital for the expenditures.
When the program was announced in Mississippi, HOPE reached out to several small, rural local governments in the Mississippi Delta who participate in the HOPE Community Partnership to assess their needs in order to access the CARES Act funds. Some of the leaders had not heard that funds were available in their communities. Others were unclear about how the funds could be spent or how to apply. Some also expressed concern about having to spend the funds in advance to participate. In Mississippi, HOPE is providing technical assistance in applying for these funds and, along with the Foundation for the Mid South, is offering a recoverable grant program similar to the one in Alabama.
With the October 15 deadline for the program in Mississippi fast approaching, only $12.5 million in payments to local governments have been made. However, many counties and municipalities have applied and been approved for payments that have not yet been made. HOPE will continue to monitor COVID-19 relief programs throughout the Deep South and the challenges small, rural local governments, communities of color, and areas of rural persistent poverty face in accessing these necessary resources.
 Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Covid-19 Relief Program https://www.msema.org/covid-19/covid-19reliefprogram/
 Mississippi Legislature House Bill 1799 and Senate Bill 3047 http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2020/html/HB/1700-1799/HB1799SG.htm
 U.S. Department of Treasury Payments to States and Units of Local Governments https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Payments-to-States-and-Units-of-Local-Government.pdf
 Mississippi Emergency Management Agency County Allocations https://www.msema.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CARES-Act-Counties-Rural-Allocations.pdf and Municipalities Allocations https://www.msema.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CARES-Act-Municipalities-Allocations.pdf
 Transparency Mississippi CARES Act Transactions http://www.transparency.mississippi.gov/caresAct/caresact.aspx
 Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, “MEMA COVID-19 Relief Program Sees Surge in Applicants” https://www.msema.org/news/memas-covid-19-relief-program-sees-surge-in-applicants/