While Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves squabbles with his own party leaders in the Legislature over who should control the spending of $1.25 billion in COVID-19 stimulus money, an Associated Press analysis shows that some states received more of the federal money than justified.
When Congress in March rushed through the $2.2 trillion package to help offset the health care costs and economic damage caused by the pandemic, the expectation was the states hardest hit would get the most help.
Not so, as the AP showed when it crunched the numbers of the $150 billion doled out to the states.
Because the legislation guaranteed that every state would get a minimum of $1.25 billion, regardless of its population, it created some huge disparities when comparing the amount of help to the relative severity of the outbreak.
For example, based on infection totals as of this past weekend, Alaska’s share topped the generosity list with nearly $3.4 million per case of COVID-19, while New York was at the bottom with $24,000. Mississippi’s allocation came out to around $165,000 per case.
What accounts for the wide range? Politics, of course. In order to get the package through the Senate, where every state has equal representation, lawmakers had to guarantee a minimum allocation, no matter how thinly populated the state or how much it had dodged the worst of the pandemic.
As a result, in heavily urban states, where case counts have been the highest and hospitals most stressed, they have had to direct their federal allocation largely toward the costs of treatment. In more sparsely populated states, which have had less of a problem with the disease, they are coming up with creative — and sometimes duplicative ways — to spend the money.
This week, for example, Tate Reeves said that if he kept control of the funding, he wanted to give some of it to hair stylists, gyms and even schoolteachers, even though small businesses have had a separate pot of money from the feds to tap into and schoolteachers have been drawing their full salary even while working much less than full time.
A main argument Reeves has made against the Legislature taking control over spending Mississippi’s stimulus money is that state lawmakers will do their normal horse-trading and divvy up the money in ways that may not be where the needs are greatest.
He’s probably right about that. But by the same token, Mississippi might not have received $1.25 billion if that same kind of legislative horse-trading had not occurred in Washington.