Lawmakers eye tornado relief as they haggle over state budget in final days of 2023 session

Published 11:11 am Monday, March 27, 2023

Legislative leaders, negotiating a state budget during the final days of the 2023 session, said they intend to provide funds to help with recovery efforts from Friday’s tornadoes that tore a path of death and destruction through the Delta and north Mississippi.

The storm has thus far resulted in 25 deaths in Mississippi and destroyed buildings stretching from the south Delta to the Amory area in northeast Mississippi.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, was among the legislative leaders who visited Rolling Fork that suffered massive destruction. On Sunday he said legislators “stand ready to provide whatever monetary resources we can to help them.”

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He said Sunday he was first told by Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials $5 million might be needed to provide the state’s share to match the federal funds that will be available as a result of President Joe Biden issuing an emergency declaration. Later in the day, as more research was conducted, Gunn said $8 million might be needed. But he said as the recovery effort continues that number is fluid.

Gunn said the funds could be incorporated in the budget bill for MEMA. Unless a rules suspension is passed, legislators face a Monday night deadline to pass the appropriations bills to fund state government.

“I don’t think money will be the issue,” Gunn said. “I think the issue is how we help them get their lives back … I saw devastation like I have never seen before.”

Another area where the state might provide help, Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, said, is to the local schools. He said he has been talking with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House leaders about the state paying the insurance deductibles for schools that were damaged by the storm both in the south Delta and in north Mississippi.

DeBar said there also could be a state fund created to provide immediate help for the schools until they receive the federal money they are in line to get because of the president’s emergency declaration.

Hosemann’s office said work is being done to help local school districts have locations as soon as possible where the displaced students can return to school.

While the storm has diverted some of the attention away from legislative leaders’ efforts to reach a budget deal, that work is continuing.

by Bobby Harrison