How South Carolina may spend $2.5B in pandemic relief money

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Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 6:15 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2021 at 6:19 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - When the state Senate and House of Representatives return to Columbia in two weeks for their regular legislative session, a major item on their agenda will be determining how to spend billions of dollars in pandemic relief.

South Carolina is receiving about $2.5 billion in State Fiscal Recovery Fund money through the American Rescue Plan Act, the nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief package President Joe Biden signed into law last March.

“These funds present us in South Carolina with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make big, bold, and transformative investments,” Gov. Henry McMaster said Oct. 28.

That day, the governor announced one of a few proposals released throughout the fall for how he would like the state legislature to allocate the ARPA funding — a half-billion-dollar plan to modernize and improve water, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure in rural areas.

“We would expect to be able to assist quite a number of people with these funds,” SC Rural Infrastructure Authority Executive Director Bonnie Ammons said during a news conference in Great Falls.

On Sept. 2, McMaster asked lawmakers to put $360 million of this funding toward a major project to widen I-26 between Columbia and Charleston.

State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said putting that money toward this project would speed its completion by several years.

“This section of I-26 experiences congestion, delay, and frequent accidents, really on a routine basis,” Hall said.

McMaster proposed another highway improvement plan on Oct. 4, to expand I-73 in the Grand Strand using $300 million between the ARPA money and the state’s budget surplus.

“This commitment will serve as a catalyst for our local government partners to finalize their investment plans for I-73,” he said during the announcement in Myrtle Beach.

The governor also asked legislators in November to set aside $124 million to continue a scholarship program at South Carolina’s technical colleges.

The AccelerateSC task force, created to advise the state on its economic recovery, made additional recommendations in August for allocating this funding, including spending on broadband expansion and providing recovery grants for small businesses.

While the vast majority of states have already begun using this money from their State Fiscal Recovery Fund apportionments, South Carolina is one of just several that have yet to allocate a cent of it, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank.

States have until the end of 2024 to decide how they will spend this money and then until the end of 2026 to use it all.

The law outlines they can put it toward supporting COVID response efforts, making up for revenue lost because of the pandemic, boosting economic recovery, and upgrading water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, among other options.

A federal judge also recently ruled states can use the money to offset tax cuts as well.

Larger cities and counties in South Carolina received their own direct cut from the American Rescue Plan Act, separate from the state’s money, so some may have already started spending this money.

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