By Alyssa Schnugg
U.S. Congressman Trent Kelly (R-Miss) expects some heated arguments on Capitol Hill when the session resumes on how best to move forward with helping local and state governments suffering from revenue loss from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce sponsored a phone-in group conference call Thursday morning between Kelly and local leaders, business owners, physicians, school officials and media.
“Mississippi’s small businesses have suffered while trying to navigate these difficult waters that COVID-19 has caused,” Kelly said.
Kelly said Congress is looking at a fourth stimulus package that will mostly be directed at helping local and state governments. Previous packages have provided funds for small businesses, hospitals and included the $1,200 check given to most adult Americans last month.
“I think we’ve been very successful in getting that money out there,” Kelly said. “So now we’re looking at a fourth package and they’re two thoughts on the Hill – you have some people who want to spend a lot of money to help local and state governments and you have some people who want to add other things.”
Kelly said he believes it is important to help the local and state governments that have “managed themselves well.”
“We should replace what has been lost in the revenues to our local cities, counties and state governments,” he said. “I do not, however, think we need to pay off debt, especially that has preexisted any of this COVID-19 crisis, so I do think there is going to be a huge fight over this package … If we focus on the debt of some of these large cities and states that have mismanaged over the years, I think there is going to be a difficult fight ahead.”
Kelly said he’s looking forward to getting back to Capitol Hill and getting back to work because there is still a lot to do to make sure the country’s most vulnerable to COVID-19 are protected while getting the country “back to normal.”
“Things are going to be a little different and little harder but we can safely navigate these waters while protecting our most vulnerable and that’s what this is all about,” he said.
A representative from Northwest Mississippi Community College asked Kelly what he thinks will occur in the fall in regard to colleges and state universities opening back up.
“It’s going to be difficult,” Kelly said. “Classrooms may have a smaller number of students and spaced further apart and there will be an increased need for additional janitorial services.”
While he said most agree that state-run schools are going to need financial help, he again, expects it will be a difficult fight.
“I think we should apply funds toward those colleges and universities (that have suffered losses) but there will be a lot of arguments and discussions about the best way to do that before we get to that level,” he said.
A local doctor asked Kelly about the possibility of hazard pay for medical personnel working directly with COVID-19 patients.
“They are taking a huge risk and there should be some financial help,” he said. “It’s a great idea and something we should look at but that is not going to happen until we get back up there and get back to work.”
Kelly said he does expect a resurgence of the virus in the fall; however, he believes that with the lessons learned over the last three months, the second-wave will be less harmful to businesses and Mississippians.
“Businesses have changed the way they’re doing things,” he said. “I don’t expect the economic and social hit to be as bad. We’ve learned a lot. I think businesses can exist in a new normal with safety precautions in place. I don’t see people being crowded in restaurants and bars like we used to. We will see more spacing. Things will happen differently.”