JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If federal dollars make their way into Mississippi, particularly for water and sewer infrastructure repairs, Gov. Tate Reeves said he would support those efforts, a reversal from a piece he wrote days ago where he called federal relief funds “bailout money” and expressed concerns about spending any of it.
Reeves made the statement Sunday during an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Nation.
“Long term, the solution, we’ve gotta invest in our infrastructure, and it was very interesting to hear Sen. [Joe] Manchin say that in this COVID relief bill, that we could actually use some of the money to invest in water and sewer systems,” Reeves said, responding to a question from Tapper asking what he’s doing to fix the water crisis in Jackson. “While I think that’s ridiculous they spent $1.9 trillion on things other than what’s needed for the virus, if that’s an option, we’re gonna certainly do everything we can to utilize it.”
Of the $1.9 trillion in the COVID relief bill, $350 billion would go toward states and municipalities, likely through those state legislatures, though Reeves alluded that he would be in charge of that money once it makes its way through.
While the process for applying for that money has not yet been revealed, it would be another path to much-needed funding Jackson leaders could use to not only fix immediate water and sewer system needs but also address long-term concerns.
Since last week, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has talked with members of the state legislature, the EPA and garnered support from at least one member of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.
Thompson offered a letter of support last week to the mayor and city council, pledging to do whatever he could to help.
While that hasn’t translated into concrete funding yet, it is a positive, Lumumba said.
“I’m optimistic we will continue to voice our concerns and our needs. And we will talk to all necessary parties. Right now, we’re going to move forward and press forward with optimism that [these requests] will be heard,” Lumumba said.
The mayor said he was encouraged by Reeves’ Sunday remarks when told about them during a press event Monday.
“I don’t know what is to credit for his change of position,” Lumumba said. “But if if the facts are as you state them to be, I prefer the latter version of our governor. And I hope that we can continue to dialogue on the things that the city of Jackson needs and many municipalities across the state.”
Lumumba said he, Public Works Director Charles Williams and Jackson’s congressional delegation met with House Speaker Philip Gunn over the weekend to discuss the prospect of a second one-cent sales tax, which would go toward water and sewer needs, and the mayor’s $47 million request for immediate repairs.
“Several members of our Jackson delegation joined us as a demonstration of unity and I was thankful for their willingness to stand with us,” Lumumba said. “I thought it was a good meeting. I’m optimistic about it. However, there were no promises made.”
To date, no guarantees on federal dollars have yet been made.
Lumumba said Monday that the city has assessed more than $18 million in damages from the winter storms that wreaked havoc on the already crippled water system, damages that will be evaluated by FEMA before any money is awarded.
That money will be included in the Hinds County damage assessment, which Thompson said has now been submitted. Last week, thirty-two other Mississippi counties met the threshold to qualify for federal relief, but must also be assessed by FEMA.
Should the federal agency find the damages were a result of deferred maintenance over time and not the winter weather, it will not award that money to the city.
Thompson also mentioned other avenues for the city, including Community Development Block Grants and federal assistance through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.