Over a billion dollars was appropriated to Mississippi from the CARES Act passed by Congress in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. State Auditor Shad White’s office is tasked with monitoring that spending.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or “CARES ACT,” established two funds:
- Coronavirus Relief Fund “CRF” CFDA 21.019, which appropriated $1.25 billion to the State of Mississippi that was then allocated by the Mississippi Legislature.
- Education Stabilization Fund, which established the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund “ESSER” CFDA 84.425 to provide funding to the Mississippi Department of Education, Institutions of Higher Learning, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund “GEERS” for awarding sub grants.
According to the State Auditor, the following state agencies were allocated the most funding from the Coronavirus Relief Funds:
- Department of Finance and Administration (DFA): $271.5 million
- Mississippi Development Authority (MDA): $244.5 million
- Department of Employment Security (MDES): $236.7 million
- Department of Education (MDE): $200 million
- Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA): $120 million
As of January 14, 2021, the Auditor’s office reports that not all of these funds have been expended. For example, the Department of Education has spent 94% of their CRF allocation, while DFA has only spent 73%. MEMA sits at 99% compared to MDA at 66%. The Department of Employment Security has spent the most in actual dollars, over $216.6 million, or 92% of its allocation.
The top vendor or recipient of these funds as listed by the Auditor is the Unemployment Trust Fund with $181.8 million. The current unemployment rate is nearing 6%, down from the peak during the pandemic business shutdowns in April 2020 that saw the rate top 16%.
If you want to view other vendors receiving these funds, click here.
A look at the Auditor’s report monitoring the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or “ESSER,” shows that the Jackson Public School District was allocated the most funding with $12.26 million, followed by the school districts of Harrison County ($4.38 million), DeSoto County ($3.98 million), Greenwood-Leflore ($3.44 million) and Greenville ($3.23 million).
You can see what your local school district was allocated from the ESSER funds by clicking here.
In a December interview, State Auditor White joined Y’all Politics to discuss the effort to audit the CARES Act dollars as they are spent. His office did not want to wait until the end of the process and then seek to track and audit this spending, which could lead to opportunities for misspending. White felt the public deserved to know how their tax dollars were being spent as the funds rolled out.
“We wanted to get ahead of this, we didn’t want Mississippi to be the poster child for misspending,” White said. “If anything, I think we’re now the poster child of getting ahead of the problem.”
White also noted then that the state has had a tough time getting the money out the door due to the large injection and regulatory hurdles, adding that Mississippi was not alone in that arena as most states have had trouble spending the money fast enough.
The CARES Act funds were to be spent by December 30, 2020, according to Auditor White.
“The Legislature and the Governor together when they crafted the legislation that spent this money put some release valves at the end of the spending that sort of said if money doesn’t get spent fast enough on this program that we’ve set up then it goes to the Unemployment Compensation Fund and then that fund can spend the money,” White said.
The Department of Finance and Administration confirmed on Thursday afternoon that over $200 million was rolled over into the Unemployment Fund in December.