COLUMBIA, S.C. — After several major flooding events across the state since 2015, state lawmakers want to make it easier for money to get where it's needed quickly after a natural disaster.
Since 2015, every winter rainstorm and major hurricane conjures fear and flashbacks to flooded roadways and flooded homes. The state has spent millions of dollars to help mitigate damages to livelihoods, properties, and homes.
Republican state lawmaker and Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith, Sumter, said it's time for change.
“We have had to make FEMA matches over the last four years as the result of natural disasters. We had our farmers endure crop losses as a result of those natural disasters. And so, what we thought is we need to just create a fund, a reserve fund in case that comes up that can always make those matches or provide relief to the farmers of this state,” Smith said.
It's why the House is setting aside $50 million as part of a new Disaster Relief and Resilience Reserve Fund in its budget proposal.
“Well obviously it's a long time coming and it's as a result of unfortunate events in South Carolina. So, we felt it was necessary we make preparations if we have another event and we have a downturn in the economy and we cannot apply our FEMA match to a natural disaster, then South Carolina would be in a catastrophic stage,” Smith added.
Minority leader Todd Rutherford, (D) Richland, said the account would make it easier for South Carolina to dispense needed funds in emergencies to local governments across the state.
“What do we do when that happens if we are out of session, if we can't allocate funds right away? This is the beginning of that process, this is recognition to everyone in this state that we know we are in the midst of climate change, we've got to be prepared for it financially,” Rutherford said.
The fund also allows spending to prevent disasters. For example, it can be used to fund flood buyouts, relocations, insurance assistance for low and moderate-income homeowners, and infrastructure improvements.
“How do we prevent this from occuring? As someone said today, the problems keep becoming exacerbated as more and more natural disasters occur, so we need to take some steps to help mitigate some of that,” Smith said.
The Chairman added the idea, in part, sprung out of the Governor’s push for flood preparedness. The Governor created a Floodwater Commission last year and urged creating a state resiliency officer this year.
But, the fund would be multi-purpose, including use for farmers to mitigate the financial hit from crop loss due to natural disasters.
Even if the allocation is approved, the fund itself would still need to be created in separate legislation from the General Assembly.
The allocation is a part of the state budget, which will begin debate March 9th.