by Delbert Hosemann
Let me be very clear: failing to appropriate the one-time $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for infrastructure and recovery projects is not a rational option for our state.
Yet, last week members of the state House of Representatives made public comments hinging the allocation of these one-time dollars on the passage of unrelated legislation.
Meanwhile, the citizens and communities who elected us are in limbo, waiting for this critical funding to increase the number of available hospital ICU beds, extend broadband service to rural areas, support child protective services, and boost our economy through workforce development and tourism.
As importantly, our cities, counties, and rural water associations are depending on millions of dollars in ARPA funds to rehabilitate our aged water and sewer systems across the state—a healthcare, economic development, and quality of life issue.
A water catastrophe which must be addressed looms over Jackson, but serious problems stretch much further than the Capital City. DeSoto County is at risk of being cut off from the Memphis sewer system. A dozen water systems in Mississippi have been citied for maximum contaminant levels, the highest-level EPA violation. Four of the state’s larger cities, including Jackson, are under federal consent decrees related to the pollution levels in their sewer and wastewater systems.
While December 31, 2024, the date the funds must be obligated, seems far into the future, economic and political uncertainties require us to act now.
For example, leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives recently included a measure to claw back unallocated ARPA funds in an initial version of the appropriations bill. The language was taken out in a later draft but should serve as a cautionary tale not to drag our feet.
Record-level inflation may be an even bigger problem. Every day we fail to spend these funds, the cost of construction goes up and the value of our ARPA funds go down.
Finally, our state is one of four which have not begun obligating their funds. If we wait another year to appropriate ARPA, we have less time to complete the jobs and we have fewer available contractors, subcontractors, and civil engineers. All states will all be competing for the same labor pool and we will be the last to start.
The Senate hit the ground running in January, having already met with stakeholders, held public hearings, and developed an initial ARPA plan before the Session started.
This is because the clock is ticking. Mississippi does not have time to wait.