It’s Your Money: S.C. bill would allocate millions of dollars for flood victims

Updated: Jan. 21, 2020 at 6:20 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - A proposed bill in South Carolina would establish the Resilience Revolving Fund to assist communities who participate in FEMA buyout programs.

Senate Bill 259 would set aside millions of dollars from the General Fund to provide loans to municipalities that apply.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) buyout programs purchase properties that have repeatedly flooded and demolishes them. Nothing is able to be built on the land again.

“It only buys out people who have had repetitive losses, people who taxpayers have essentially had to bail out multiple times and quite honestly there are some homes in my district who have been flooded five times or more and those people cannot afford to get out and they want to leave and I know the taxpayers don’t want to pay for a home that’s going to be flooded again,” said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown.

Currently, federal dollars cover 75% of a buyout but local dollars are needed to fund the rest. The Resilience Revolving Fund would help qualifying homeowners pay for the remaining 25%.

“Many people can’t absorb that cost and so what bill S.B. 259 seeks to do is make a program to help make up what FEMA doesn’t compensate for,” explained Horry County councilman Cam Crawford.

Goldfinch filed the bill last year and the Senate passed it 44 to 1.

“I don’t mean to overdramatize things but I think it’s verging on a human rights violation to continue to demand that these people who have been living in floods to continue to live in those floods over and over and over again," Goldfinch said, "I think it’s a shame that the taxpayers should have to continue to pay for it over and over and over again when the people don’t really even want to stay there.”

During the Horry County Council meeting on Tuesday night, leaders looked over a resolution to support the bill.

“It sends a positive signal to the General Assembly that this is important to the county and this is something that could help us in the future,” Crawford said.

Goldfinch agreed that the resolution could be helpful to get the bill completely passed.

The council voted to send the resolution to the administrative committee for recommendation.

“A huge problem is the process we have to go through. And then the time, it takes way too much time for these things to happen. So hopefully we’ll short cut some of the processes so the money goes from FEMA to state government trickles down and so forth. We’d like for that to go to Horry County to get it out to the citizens much quicker,” said Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

The bill currently calls for $2 million to establish the fund but Goldfinch said it will take around $10 million to fully fund the program. He said he intends to ask lawmakers to allocate $10 million in this session.

Goldfinch said while the fund will initially cost millions, he believes there is an enormous cost-benefit to taxpayers in the long run.

“These homes that have been flooded four, five, six times. The taxpayers continue to have to pour money into them to fix them and we’re going to continue to have these problems as development grows and these people continue to sit in the swamp so to speak, sit in the ditch and it gets worse and worse every year around them.” Goldfinch said.

He also reiterated that money given to homeowners is a loan, not free money.

Another bill sponsor, Sen. Chip Campsen, said the bill would help decrease the structures throughout the state in flood-prone areas.

“We didn’t have smart planning for many years and we’re paying the price for it but this is kind of a smart way to help give people the financial ability to do what they really want to do anyway,” Campsen said.

Crawford said the bill would and state funding would help expedite future buyout programs and relocate residents.

Not all flood victims are sure how helpful the bill would be.

“I’ve spent so much money and so much time dealing with this flood and the housing," said Melissa Krupa, an Horry County flood victim. "The longer they wait, the less successful any buyout is going to be, you know? We’re tired and we’re trying to hang on, but reality is we just can’t, a lot of people just can’t, you know, we’re not safe here.”

Krupa said many of her neighbors in the Rosewood community are interested in a buyout but aren’t thrilled about the idea of a loan and are skeptical about when it would actually happen.

“It’s only $2 million, it’s not going to help everybody,” Krupa said.

Still, she said it’s a step in the right direction and hopes more help can come soon to victims who’ve waited years.

Conway started a buyout program after Hurricane Matthew and purchased 28 homes in 2018.

A spokesperson for the city said residents were responsible for paying around $2,000 - $8,000 to cover the 25% of the buyout.

“If we hadn’t had Hurricane Florence, we would’ve had a poor response to the program because the amount of out-of-pocket loss that homeowners would’ve had would have made the decision to sale much more difficult,” city spokesperson Taylor Newell said in an email.

She explained Hurricane Florence added flood insurance benefits and decreased the value of repeatedly flooded properties.

“But for this combo, the City would only have been able to purchase a very small amount of homes that were in harm’s way,” Newell wrote.

Campsen said the bill would just be one way for the state to mitigate flooding, but not the only tool.

Goldfinch is hopeful that lawmakers will fully pass the bill this session but is also realistic.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind it but just to be quite frank, the General Assembly doesn’t have much bandwidth and there’s a lot of stuff going on this year when it comes to education reform, Santee Cooper reform, Pension reform, tax reform, billion-dollar surplus and all the departments and agencies that want additional funds," Goldfinch said.

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