CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council reopened on Monday after being closed for more than a week.
The EOC closed because it could not operate with a reimbursement funding system mandated by the state. The South Carolina Office of Economic Opportunity asked the EOC to use the reimbursement system after a state audit found a number of problems with the EOC's operations.
The EOC had been using grant money allocated to it to directly pay for programs and staffing. The reimbursement system required the EOC to pay for expenses out of its own funds and then get compensation.
Director of the state Office of Economic Opportunity Louis Cooper says the EOC did not have enough money to pay expenses up front, so it had to close. The OEO took the EOC off the reimbursement system and allowed the agency to reopen because of the extreme heat and the anticipation many people would be asking for help with their electric bills.
Cooper said the EOC has until July 2 to come into compliance with the state guidelines. After that the state will work with the EOC for another 45 days to help the agency fix any problems not already solved.
Any problems that continue at that point will be grounds for the state to terminate the grant allocated for the EOC and shut down the agency. Cooper said if the EOC is shut down, the state will work to find another agency to disperse the grant money intended for needy people.
In the meantime, news of internal trouble at the EOC is worrisome for people like Brandy Whaley of Myrtle Beach. Whaley said she can only find a job for about 15 to 20 hours a week. She is the sole income in a household that includes her teenage son, a husband who is now disabled because of eye problems and a handicapped mother-in-law.
She has asked the EOC for assistance in the past and was thinking about asking them for more help next month.
"I think it's scary for a lot of people that do depend on them, that have used them in the past," Whaley said.
She also said the EOC usually provides more help than agencies like Helping Hand.
Myrtle Beach Helping Hand Executive Director Adrian Weatherwax pointed out the EOC is the only local agency that provides help with deposits for rent and utilities.
"The greatest need if you're homeless is to get a place and perhaps without some assistance in getting into a place you can't get into a place, and we cannot help people with deposits," Weatherwax said. "And the only resource they have is the Waccamaw EOC."
Weatherwax said apparently funding was not yet flowing through the EOC on Monday. Someone was in her office earlier in the day asking for assistance because EOC workers said funding wasn't available. Weatherwax also pointed out that unlike Helping Hand, the EOC is also an agency that helps people throughout Horry and two other counties. So she hopes the EOC will stay open.
"When the EOC is open it kind of divvies up the burden for all of the agencies," Weatherwax said. "So yeah, we all notice it.
"I don't know all the inner workings of the problems, but I wish they'd get it solved because that's a valuable resource in this area and in this economy, Weatherwax said. "It's a desperate need."
Whaley also hopes the agency will stay open. She said they provide another option for her to find help until she does not need it any more.
"I keep hoping for things to turn around and change financially and economically, job-wise, to where I won't need any assistance like that, but at this point I still do," Whaley said.