State leaders promise stimulus money will be well spent

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - The picture of how much Mississippi will receive from the federal stimulus package and where that money will be spent is now much clearer. But work is still left to be done to make sure the state gets the maximum benefit from those funds.

The total expected impact of the stimulus money on the state of Mississippi is $5.2 billion.

State education will receive $480 million in block grants. That's on top of the money already flowing into the state for special education and schools with large numbers of poverty stricken students.

Medicaid will get almost $800 million, and the state can upgrade its highways and bridges with $350 million in federal funding. Now lawmakers and government leaders must make sure it's used wisely.

"Following Hurricane Katrina, it was the largest influx of federal money in any single, one state. This is going to be much larger," State Auditor Stacy Pickering said.

Pickering said accountability will be key over the next several years.

"It's not really a question of if we can and do we really want to, this is a matter of have to," Pickering said.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds promised the money will be used to make a difference in every child's learning.

"I will really push back against districts who want to go out and hire a bunch of assistants or do things that won't make a difference in student achievement. We must capitalize on this opportunity," Bounds said.

Still much of the focus during Thursday's meeting zeroed in on the money Governor Barbour said he will not accept.

"I think it was a little disturbing to hear House leadership may be passing legislation to give unemployment benefits to people that are still working," said Rep. Brian Aldridge, (R) Tupelo.

"I think we're doing the right thing by pushing for the entire package. And I trust and I hope the governor and all concerned parties will embrace that," said Rep. Tyrone Ellis, (D) Starkville

Governor Barbour has already said he will not accept federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits for part time workers. It remains to be seen if the legislature can get enough votes to bypass that decision and get that money anyway.