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S.C. gets nearly $157 million in federal aid for flood recovery

tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina is receiving nearly $157 million in federal aid to help pay for recovery from floods last fall.

Nearly 62 percent of the allocation will go to state agencies. The rest is divvied up among Richland County, Lexington County and the city of Columbia.

$96.8 million to state agencies

$23.5 million to Richland County

$20 million to Columbia

$16.3 million to Lexington County

“The funds will help to meet remaining unmet housing, economic development, and infrastructure needs that resulted from thousands of homes and small businesses being damaged or destroyed” during record rain Oct. 4, a HUD news release said.

HUD officials also called for development of plans that better prepare the Midlands area for future storms, a step some officials say is under discussion.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin called the funds “a big win for the citizens of our city.”

City officials have three months to submit a plan on using $20 million in aid, he said.

HUD officials will review those plans before proceeding with distribution of aid in late spring or early summer, spokeswoman Heather Fluit said.

The HUD allocation is among the largest sources of federal flood aid that South Carolina can expect. It dwarfs the estimated $36 million available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation grant program.

South Carolina is getting more than half of the $300 million in disaster recovery funds that Congress approved for communities nationwide hit with flooding last year.

It was unknown until Monday how much South Carolina would receive.

Gov. Nikki Haley had asked for $140 million to repair flood-damaged housing. Her office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In its announcement, HUD said only South Carolina and Texas are getting the recovery aid because both had “significantly higher unmet needs than jurisdictions impacted by other eligible disasters.”

Benjamin and City Manager Teresa Wilson said Columbia could consider using the aid to buy out flood-damaged property along waterways, help homeowners rebuild, improve water and sewer systems, help small businesses and more.

Col. Kevin Shwedo, South Carolina's disaster recovery coordinator, said the state won't know how to move forward with the funds until it receives a Federal Register notice from HUD explaining how the money can be used.

That notice should come within a few days, he said. Regardless of the conditions, Shwedo said, the state will continue to work to take care of the state's most vulnerable residents.

Lexington County will work with HUD to settle on its plan for using the aid, County Administrator Joe Mergo said. County officials are struggling to repair some rural roads still washed out, projects expected to total $7 million.

Richland County released a statement saying the county and its Blue Ribbon Committee would continue to “determine the best use of all disaster recovery funding to help move our County forward.”

“I know we have a long process ahead, but today’s announcement strengthens our recovery efforts,” Council Chairman Torrey Rush said in the statement. “This funding will help tremendously in restoring lives and helping many residents look toward the future with restored hope.”

Benjamin said Columbia could coordinate with Richland and Lexington counties on flood recovery projects.

“Gills Creek comes to mind because we share that waterway,” Benjamin said.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in the announcement that the most important task after a disaster is “getting folks back to a safe home quickly, so they can return to their daily lives.”

“With climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of disasters,” he said, “we must take every opportunity to plan better and ensure faster recovery for communities across the nation.”

South Carolina’s farmers asked that some of the HUD money be used to help cover their uninsured crop losses caused by the storm. But Haley opposed that request, saying she did not favor giving aid to one group of businesses over another.

The S.C. House approved using $40 million in savings to offer aid to farmers. If approved, farmers could recover up to 20 percent of their loss — up to $100,000 — via a grant, money that would not have to be repaid.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed to this story.

How HUD money will be distributed in South Carolina

▪ $96.8 million to state agencies

▪ $23.5 million to Richland County

▪ $20 million to Columbia

▪ $16.3 million to Lexington County

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