Legislature allocates $275M of federal COVID-19 funds to rural broadband, distance learning

Legislature allocates $275M of federal COVID-19 funds to rural broadband, distance learning
The Mississippi Legislature dedicated $275 million to expanding rural broadband and enhancing distance learning. (Source: WDAM)

JACKSON, Miss. (WDAM) - Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann announced Thursday the Mississippi Legislature has allocated $275 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to rural broadband expansion and K-12 learning initiatives.

The state received a total of $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 aid under the CARES Act.

“This legislation brings connectivity to the world for our children, educators, and parents and is a giant leap forward for our State’s future,” Hosemann said in a news release.

Senate Bill 3046, the COVID-19 Connectivity Act authored by Sen. Joel Carter, establishes a grant program to expand broadband services in rural areas by making $65 million available to the state’s member-owned electric cooperatives. The cooperatives will receive one federal dollar for every dollar they spend. Other services providers have $10 million available to them under the bill.

The Mississippi Department of Education will receive $50 million for the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Grant Program created by House Bill 1788. The grants will be given to schools in areas lacking internet services.

Another $150 million will go toward helping school districts provide laptops for students and enhance distance learning under Senate Bill 3044, authored by Sen. Dennis DeBar. Under the bill, $129,700,000 will go to school districts based on average daily membership, and $20 million will be distributed by MDE to school districts based on need. MDE will also receive $300,000 to update its data collection system.

“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.”

According to Hosemann, 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.
  • $181,775,000 to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

The state Legislature appropriated $300 million in May for a small business grant program and $2,000 stipends for certain small businesses. The Legislature also reserved $50 million of the funds to be used at Gov. Tate Reeves’ discretion.

Copyright 2020 WDAM. All rights reserved.