The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will soon be sending the Mississippi Legislature $1.8 billion, and it is important we appropriate this money in a smart, fiscally responsible manner. This is an opportunity to not only meet our immediate needs but to also invest in the future of our state.
If the federal regulations concerning these funds will allow, I propose the following blueprint to address our immediate needs and to lay out an investment strategy that will yield a return and create a brighter future for all Mississippians.
To address our most pressing needs, I believe setting aside $984 million to divide equally among our 82 counties will greatly benefit our citizens and our state’s marketability. This would send $12 million dollars to each county in Mississippi to resurface existing roads and to repair or replace existing bridges. These funds would be restricted to current roads and bridges, and none of the the money could be used to secure right-a-way or create any new roads or bridges. Imagine a Mississippi where the vast majority of the roads have been resurfaced and are open for tourism and ready for business.
Another immediate and important issue to me is healthcare and assisted living facilities. I would propose to create a $100 million grant program for private and not-for-profit hospitals in Mississippi. I do not want to see another hospital close in Mississippi. If we are going to grow our population and communities, healthcare has to be a component to support this growth.
During the height of COVID in 2020, most of our assisted living homes and nursing home facilities did not receive any relief for their COVID expenses. I would propose setting aside a $100 million grant for the assisted living and nursing home facilities. These facilities and homes take care of our elderly and special needs adult population. As a Republican, healthcare, rehabilitation and care for the elderly and aging population is a top priority.
To invest in the future of our state, I have a three-fold proposal. First, I suggest setting aside $300 million to restore the level of the unemployment fund to its original pre-COVID amount. Before the COVID pandemic, the people of Mississippi had nearly $700 million on hand to support unemployment. This fund was tremendously important during COVID because Mississippi was in a position to meet the needs of the unemployed without borrowing any additional funds. Restoring the unemployment fund would be an investment in our workforce and would ensure that we will have funding available to meet a future natural disaster or medical emergency. Of fiscal importance, the restoration of this fund would also keep the unemployment tax rate low on all businesses in Mississippi. It’s just the right thing to do.
Secondly, I recommend earmarking $300 million for grants and/or loans to invest in specific industries or technologies. For instance, think about the possibilities that would be afforded to us if Mississippi became an energy independent state by investing in power plants producing various types of energy. What would the future of Mississippi look like with solar farms and new energy tech projects across the state, not with a goal to abandon coal, natural gas and nuclear-powered plants, but to reinforce and enhance our ability to generate and distribute reliable energy under any weather condition or energy crisis? The need for reliable energy is growing, and Mississippi companies would be in a position to provide power to our neighboring states.
Another example of investing in a specific industry could be to set aside grants or loans for the purposes of enhancing our footprint in emerging drone or robotic technologies. Imagine a Mississippi where unmanned drones and autonomous robots are being designed, built and programmed in our state – not just for Mississippi, not just for the US, but for the entire world. It is my hope that Mississippi will invest in technologies or industries that will create high paying jobs and that can be used as a generational economic game changer for our culture, positively impacting the dynamic of the Mississippi economy. In addition to the initial investment, some profits from these companies could be set aside to pay for educating the incoming workforce and providing technical certificates, while also reducing the tax rates on Mississippi residents.
With the above suggestions, roughly $16 million would be left of the $1.8 billion Mississippi is set to receive. I would like to see that money put in a special fund for promoting the state of Mississippi and the unique treasures we have to offer. Although we are rich in natural resources, hard workers and kind faces, one of the greatest challenges facing our state is growing our population. We should look for markets and opportunities to advertise the very best of our people and geographic regions to the rest of the country.
I am optimistic, and I believe our best days are ahead of us. I’m eager to hear your thoughts and opinions as Mississippians. Forward, together.
CHAD MCMAHAN is a state senator who represents District 6. He can be reached at 601-359-3244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.