Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann encouraged area leaders to take a thoughtful and future-focused approach to spending the massive amounts of money coming to the state and individual cities and counties through the federal American Rescue Plan.
The state is slated to receive a total of around $6 billion from the program with $1.8 billion to be appropriated by the state legislature, $900 million allocated for counties, $258 for smaller cities and $97 million for the state’s metro areas, along with $1.6 billion earmarked for K-12 education, $429 million for higher education and $166 million for capital projects focused on rural broadband access.
Hosemann told leaders gathered Thursday at the Crossroads Arena with the funds going to the counties and cities along with the funds controlled by the legislature there is an unprecedented opportunity to change the future of the state.
“The question is not what are you going to do with your money, it’s what were we going to with our money. We have to work together,” he said.
Detailed rules set by the federal government control how the funds can and cannot be spent and Hosemann spent much of the meeting discussing those regulations. Funding to counties can be spent to replace lost revenue due to slowdowns related to the pandemic, along with projects to enhance broadband, water and sewer and other items. They cannot be used to directly pay for roads. However, Hosemann did note funds designated for replacing lost revenue can be put toward anything normal county revenues would be used for.
The lieutenant governor said at the local level the funds are an opportunity to shape the future growth of the state because decisions on where they are spent to improve infrastructure will inspire and encourage future growth.
He encouraged leaders to take a thoughtful approach and noted the funds can be placed in interest-bearing bank accounts while decisions are made to allow them to grow.
Hosemann said Mississippi leaders and economists anticipated a year of slowed growth and economic challenges in 2020 due to the pandemic but the reality has actually been unprecedented growth in state revenues as people have continued to spend, driving sales tax revenues. He said the state is currently $920 million over anticipated revenue for the fiscal year, which ends June 30 and he anticipates that figure to climb to $1 billion over by the end of the fiscal period. The legislature will be faced with a unique opportunity to determine how to spend the unexpected revenues to provide for the future of the state and he expects intense discussions among legislators, county leaders and others as that course is charted.
Area county allocations through the American Rescue Plan include $7,177,687 for Alcorn County, $4,870,000 for Prentiss County and $3,760,000 for Tishomingo County. The payments will be made in two phases coming this year and next year.
Magnolia Regional Health Center (MRHC) is expanding to Tishomingo County as a result of an agreement reached between Yellow Creek Port Authority (YCPA) and the healthcare organization.
In March, local delegates, including Sen. Rita Parks, Sen. Daniel Sparks, Rep. Bubba Carpenter, Rep. Nick Bain, and Rep. Jody Steverson, worked to obtain $750,000 to be used by YCPA to construct a medical clinic in Burnsville and meet the workforce health care needs of many of the industries located at both port locations.
The YCPA board recently received proposals for the use of a building on port property and selected the MRHC clinic project as the best use for the location. MRHC will own and operate the medical clinic and YCPA will provide the land to assist the project.
The new clinic will be located in Burnsville and plans for construction are underway. The newly built clinic will serve both industry and community healthcare needs.
“The city of Burnsville is thrilled to welcome Magnolia Regional Health Center to our community,” said David Nixon, mayor of Burnsville. “MRHC has cared for patients in our region and community for many years, and I am confident the new clinic will serve residents of our community for years to come.”
“Our board of directors, leadership team and entire staff consider it a privilege and tremendous opportunity to expand critical primary care services into Tishomingo County and the city of Burnsville,” said Jim Hobson, chief executive officer at MRHC. “By strategically expanding our clinic presence into Tishomingo County, we are able to continue to provide primary care services to our industry partners and community residents.”
Hobson added, “The continued success of Tishomingo County and Yellow Creek Port is vital to our region’s overall success, and I am excited about working with all individuals involved to play a small role in keeping existing industry workforce healthy and recruiting new industries as well.”
Yellow Creek State Inland Port has locations in Iuka and Burnsville, and is near the confluence of the Tennessee River and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. YCP receives and ships general cargo and dry-bulk materials including steel billets, structural shapes, coiled strip, paper, steel, ore and bridge beams.
Magnolia Regional Health Center is a 200 bed acute care community hospital that is jointly owned by the City of Corinth and Alcorn County, Mississippi. MRHC has been in existence since 1965 and has grown into the largest employer in Alcorn County. MRHC serves six counties in Mississippi and Tennessee and offers over 30 medical services for patients of the region. MRHC provides high-quality and convenient care through its network of 15 medical clinics.
A vaccine incentive may be coming in Mississippi, but don’t expect it to be a lottery.
“I will say the lottery stuff is probably out for us, as far as having a vaccination lottery,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said. “With our federal grant funds, that has not really been something that they have endorsed.”
But the Mississippi State Department of Health is looking at other incentive options, he said during a weekly talk with the Mississippi State Medical Association.
“It’s going to work for some people,” said Dobbs. “And it’s just a tool. This is not the answer to our challenge, but we want to use every tool in the toolbox, so we are absolutely looking at that. Expect to hear something about that in the near future.”
Mississippi ranks last in the percentage of residents fully vaccinated, and Dobbs believes the reason stems from similar behavior patterns seen with the flu vaccine.
“Why does your average 40-year-old not get the flu shot? It’s because they don’t think they need it,” he said. “I think that’s something we really struggle with, because it’s part of our health care culture here … It’s really sad. People in foreign countries would saw off their small toe to get a COVID vaccine.”
And he has harsh words for the large number of nursing home employees who are opting not to take the vaccine.
“We’re going to have to do something about that,” said Dobbs, “and we’re looking at our options to more forcefully promote immunization, because it’s so important for our vulnerable populations. I think it’s absolutely reckless, bordering on unethical, for people to work in nursing homes and not be vaccinated.”
More aggressive testing regimes are likely forthcoming for those settings.
At this point, it’s probably easier to get a COVID vaccine in Mississippi than any other state, Dobbs believes. While numerous pharmacies have the vaccine, the state has a new program making smaller quantities available to physicians so that doctors can make sure their regular patients are vaccinated.
The state drive-thru locations have transitioned to walk-up sites with no appointment required, although appointments can still be made, and MSDH is working toward having the vaccine available at all of the county health departments in the next few months.
The agency is also pushing hard for local organizations to host vaccination clinics. It also now has a reimbursement program for eligible providers to conduct clinics.
“We will pay all the overhead costs for people to go out and do community events or home vaccinations,” said Dobbs.
As for the need for booster shots, “I think the real question is not when, but who,” the doctor said. “There probably are some people who are going to need augmented immunity.”
Speaking about the possible origin of COVID-19, Dobbs said he believes the lab theory is plausible.
“Is it the most likely explanation? I’m not sure about that,” he said. “The 1977 swine flu, H1N1, looks like it came from either a lab leak or a vaccine trial gone awry. Things can happen.”
As for the “magnet challenge” and the idea that the vaccine is magnetizing people, Dobbs said, “Don’t be dumb on purpose.”
Dobbs said case numbers are “looking really good” compared to where they were. On Thursday, the state reported 194 new positive cases and one death that had occurred in October and was identified through death certificate reports.
After exceeding 10 again several weeks ago, hospitalization numbers in Corinth have declined. As of Wednesday, Magnolia Regional Health Center reported three patients currently hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.
n Alcorn County had 28 cases via suspected community transmission for the week of May 23 to 29, rising from 17 the previous week. The positive rate was 4.9 percent from May 12 to 25, up from 3.1 percent during the May 5 to 18 period.
n Tishomingo County had 7 cases from May 23 to 29, down from 12. The positive rate of 4 percent fell from 6.6 percent.
n Prentiss County had 11 cases from May 23 to 29, rising from 4 the previous week. The positive rate of 6.1 percent rose from 1.4 percent.
n Tippah County had 2 cases from May 23 to 29, down from 3 the previous week. The positive rate, at 2.5 percent, is down from 3.9 percent the previous week.
n McNairy County had 0.6 cases per day from May 26 to June 8, falling from 1.9 per day during the prior two weeks. The county had a positive rate of 1.6 percent over the last seven days.
The local jobless rate eased down a bit over the month and fell substantially from a year ago in the latest labor market report.
At 4.9 percent, the unemployment rate for April is down from the revised May rate of 5.3 percent. The pandemic unemployment surge was kicking in a year ago, pushing the county’s rate to 12.7 percent.
The county had 147 new claims for unemployment insurance in April and 726 continued claims, compared to 1,604 new claims and 4,611 continued claims a year ago.
The county had 760 counted as unemployed in April, compared to 820 a month earlier and 1,840 a year earlier. The number employed in April was 14,590, compared to 12,640 a year earlier.
Benefits paid out through all unemployment programs in Alcorn County totaled $1.22 million in April, compared to $3.3 million a year earlier.
Mississippi’s not seasonally adjusted non-farm employment increased 2,400 over the month and 107,400 over the year.
State unemployment held at 6.2 percent for the month in seasonally adjusted numbers. A year earlier, the state was at 15.7 percent.
Across the state, rates ranged from 3.7 percent in Rankin County to 16 percent in Jefferson County. Alcorn County ranked 13th among the 82 counties. Tishomingo County ranked sixth with a 4.5 percent rate.
Unemployment rates were lower in April in 12 states and the District of Columbia and stable in 38 states, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Forty-eight states and the District had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and two states had little change. The national unemployment rate, 6.1 percent, was little changed over the month but was 8.7 percentage points lower than in April 2020.