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April 25, 2007

eNewsletter from the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal




Mississippi Alternative Housing Program

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is moving forward with the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program, which will replace some FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes with more sustainable, livable units. Governor Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Congressional Delegation recently announced the state will officially receive $275 million to construct its Mississippi Cottage and Park Model units.


A call center has recently been opened for Mississippi Gulf Coast residents who have questions about the program. Residents can call 1-866-726-MAHP (6247) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday for more information on the program. Frequently Asked Questions and program updates are available on the program’s website, www.mscottage.org.


Vendors interested in manufacturing the housing units should also visit www.mscottage.org for bidding information and recent announcements.


The Mississippi Alternative Housing Program is a pilot program funded by a federal grant. The goals of the program are to develop and evaluate safer and more comfortable alternatives to current disaster housing units for future disasters. MEMA is administering the 24-month long program.


Legislative Wrap-Up

The 2007 Legislative session recently ended, and Governor Barbour has signed two important measures passed by the Mississippi Legislature that will aid the state’s recovery efforts.


Under new legislation, more small and mid-sized businesses will be eligible for GO Zone tax-exempt bond financing as they build new facilities or expand in Mississippi. House Bill 1390 changes the Small Enterprise Development Finance Program (SED) so that more small-to-mid-sized businesses can qualify for low-interest loans of between $350,000 and $4 million to finance the construction and renovation of buildings or the purchase of new equipment. Prior to this change, only manufacturing and industrial projects were eligible; now, under the SED Program, most commercial businesses, including retail development and service related businesses, may qualify for tax-exempt financing.


“The job-creation potential of this new law is significant because it extends advantages of the GO Zone program to retail and service-related businesses,” Governor Barbour said. “The combination of lower than market interest rates, a fixed term and state tax incentives will make this an attractive financing option for many businesses locating or expanding within the GO Zone.”


For more information, visit www.msbusinessfinance.com or contact Mississippi Business Finance Corporation at 601-355-6232.


House Bill 1500 deals with the “wind pool,” an insurer of last resort for homes and businesses on the Coast that is funded through customer premiums and assessments from every insurance company in Mississippi. Today there are about 32,000 policies in the wind pool, up from 16,000 policies at the time of Hurricane Katrina. One of the main purposes of the bill - known as The Mississippi Growth and Redevelopment Act of 2007 -is to mitigate the increase of insurance premium costs across the entire state.


The bill, unanimously approved by both houses of the Legislature, also creates the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association Reinsurance Assistance Fund. Monies in the special fund may be used by the Department of Insurance, with approval from the Legislature, to defray the cost for reinsurance, lowering the risk for insurance companies writing policies in Mississippi.


This legislation provides $80 million over the next four years from the insurance premium tax to buy reinsurance, which will result in lower premiums for wind pool policyholders. The bill encourages companies to write plans in the wind pool by providing an annual credit against state insurance premium taxes for domestic and foreign insurance companies for new wind and hail policies written in the coastal area of the state.


Governor Barbour recently announced that the wind pool will also receive $30 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. These two measures will allow the state’s insurer of last resort to slash commercial rates from 268% to 142%, resulting in millions of dollars in savings to policyholders.


“This new infusion of money into the wind pool, coupled with the many other steps that are being taken, offers renewed confidence that we will rebuild bigger and better than ever,” Governor Barbour said. “The ultimate goal is to re-create the private insurance market so that the wind pool isn’t even necessary. I see this as a step toward that goal.”


Homeowners Assistance Program

The first phase of the Homeowners Assistance Program recently delivered its 12,000th check. The program, which provides up to $150,000 to homeowners who received flood damage although their homes were outside the flood zone, has paid over $868 million to 12,413 families. 


The Homeowners Assistance Program Phase II is underway with the first groups of applicants scheduled to receive their award letter and closing package as part of a pilot program. These applicants will participate in financial counseling sessions and then the grant closing.  The pilot process in Phase I was very helpful in working out any issues in the overall process. The program will be moving forward with all applications very soon.