Legislature Dedicates $275M in Federal COVID-19 Funds to Rural Broadband, Distance Learning ProgramsBy PRESS RELEASE,
Rural broadband expansion and K-12 distance learning initiatives will receive almost a fourth of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, under a package appropriated by the Mississippi Legislature. Mississippi received $1.25 billion in unallocated federal aid to soften the pandemic’s health and economic blow to the State.
“This legislation brings connectivity to the world for our children, educators, and parents and is a giant leap forward for our State’s future,” Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann said.
The “COVID-19 Connectivity Act,” Senate Bill 3046 authored by Senator Joel Carter, establishes a grant program to expand service in unserved or underserved areas. The program makes $65 million available to Mississippi’s 26 member-owned electric cooperatives at a one-to-one match: for every dollar the co-ops spend, they will receive one federal dollar. Ten million is available for other service providers.
House Bill 1788, establishing the “Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Grant Program,” provides $50 million to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) for grants to K-12 schools in areas without Internet connectivity.
Additionally, Senate Bill 3044, authored by Senator Dennis DeBar, appropriates $150 million to K-12 education to equip students with laptops and enhance distance learning in school districts across the State. Three hundred thousand dollars will be allocated to MDE to upgrade its data collection system; $129,700,000 will be allocated to public school districts based on average daily membership; and $20 million will be allocated to MDE to be distributed to school districts based on need.
“This is the equivalent of the initial delivery of electricity to rural Mississippi. Not only will it help prepare our schools for the fall, but it will impact thousands of Mississippians who currently do not have access to broadband, a major hindrance for teaching, learning, and telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hosemann said. “We are grateful to all of the individuals and entities who banded together to get these bills passed including Senator DeBar, Senator Carter, Senator Scott Delano, the Public Service Commission, the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, and others.”
The remaining Coronavirus Relief Funds will be distributed as follows:
· $129,725,000 to hospitals, clinics, nonprofits, and childcare;
· $40 million to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency;
· $70 million to cities and counties;
· $20 million to the Mississippi Department of Corrections;
· $15 million to tourism;
· $100 million to public universities and community and junior colleges;
· $10 million to private schools and universities;
· $55 million to workforce training;
· $1 million to elections;
· $2.5 million to the judiciary; and
· $181,775,000 to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
Three hundred million was appropriated in mid-May for a small business grant program, and $2,000 stipends for certain small businesses. The Legislature reserved $50 million to use at the Governor’s discretion.