News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

American Rescue Plan Expected to Bring Approximately $68.56 Million to USCOG Region

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion emergency relief bill, providing approximately $350 billion to states, territories, tribes, counties and municipalities to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, offset revenue losses, bolster economic recovery and provide premium pay for essential workers.

The Act will provide approximately $42.6 million to the six counties in the Upper Savannah Region and approximately $25,960,000 to the Region’s 24 cities and towns, according to published reports.

The U.S. Department of Treasury is expected to release definitive guidance on how the funds may be spent. However, there is no timeline on when that guidance will be released according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC).

MASC strongly recommends cities and towns refrain from spending any funds they receive until that guidance is released. Spending the funds on unauthorized uses could result in a city or town having to repay those funds to the federal government. The same would apply to counties.

Initial estimates have been released. However, they cannot be relied upon as Treasury is still working to finalize the distribution amounts. The Municipal Association recommends not using any of the estimates that are circulating for planning purposes.

Funding will be distributed in two tranches. The first tranche will be distributed within 60 days of enactment of the law, and the second tranche will be distributed 12 months after the first is paid.

The funds may be used to:

  • Respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
  • Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.
  • Provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.
  • Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

 

American Rescue Plan Local Allocation Estimates*

Abbeville County 4.76 million
City of Abbeville 1.87 million
Town of Calhoun Falls 710,000
Town of Donalds 120,000
Town of Due West 450,000
Town of Lowndesville 40,000
   
Edgefield County                                                 5.29 million
Town of Edgefield 1.8 million
Town of Johnston 890,000
Town of Trenton 70,000
   
Greenwood County 13.73 million
City of Greenwood 8.74 million
Town of Hodges 60,000
Town of Ninety Six 760,000
Town of Troy 40,000
Town of Ware Shoals 800,000
   
Laurens County                                                   13.09 million
City of Clinton 3.13 million
Town of Cross Hill 190,000
Town of Gray Court 310,000
City of Laurens 3.31 million
Town of Waterloo 60,000
   
McCormick County                                             1.84 million
Town of McCormick 880,000
Town of Parksville 40,000
Town of Plum Branch 30,000
   
Saluda County                                                       3.97 million
Town of Ridge Spring 280,000
Town of Saluda 1.35 million
Town of Ward 30,000

* Allocation Estimates provided by Municipal Association of SC website

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Upper Savannah Region Receives Federal Grant to Train EMTs, Paramedics

Upper Savannah workforce development staff recently learned there is a shortage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in the Region and sought funding to fix the situation.

Upper Savannah COG applied for and recently received a $500,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train 100 emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties. The grant award was announced this month.

“The goal is to expand the pool of EMT basic all the way to advanced paramedics,” Upper Savannah COG Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner said.

This is a four-year grant applied jointly with the Pee Dee Council of Governments in Florence. The Pee Dee Region will receive $2 million.

“We applied together to increase the chances of the grant being funded,” Skinner said. “But there were statewide issues that we thought we could work on together. The Pee Dee grant is focused more on careers leading to nursing and is hospital-based. Ours is based with the county EMS services.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Piedmont Technical College (PTC), each county in the Upper Savannah Region had vacancies due to a lack of skilled applicants and staff turnover. Greenwood County had 17 vacancies, Laurens eight, Newberry and Edgefield five apiece, Saluda and Abbeville four apiece, and McCormick three.

The grant period begins Feb. 1, 2021, when Upper Savannah can begin to enroll trainees and pay for classes. PTC will be the educational provider while USCOG will administer the grant.

“We are going to have a boot camp this summer for recent high school graduates who are interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic,” Skinner said. “During the summer, they will receive training for basic EMT.

“After the end of the summer, they will have the chance to continue on with school to work toward becoming a paramedic or they will have an opportunity to go to work for one of the seven county EMS systems who are hiring. And if they go to work as an EMT, they can earn a living and continue school part-time to enhance their credentials and earn more.”

The grant will promote more than just the basic EMT curriculum.

“We interviewed Human Resources directors who do exit interviews and asked, ‘why do people quit EMT?’” Skinner said. The answers included stress, long hours and the physical aspects of the job.

“So we will build the boot camp around a retention model,” she said. “Some of the things we have built into the boot camp is some mentoring and counseling so that they can prepare themselves for the emotional and physical aspects of the job.

“We are building into the curriculum weight training. If they are coming straight out of high school, they might not have the physical stamina to lift a patient, so we are building in weight training through the Greenwood YMCA.”

Trainees will also be taught how to sleep.

“There are strategies for how to go to sleep. If you are working a shift job and you can’t go to sleep, you are tired, you can be dangerous, you burn out quickly,” Skinner said.

She said USCOG will work with county EMS directors to make sure they have trained staff to fill their open positions and tailor the training to meet their needs. Having full staffs can reduce overtime and even worker’s compensation cases.

County governments have worked hard to meet local needs during the pandemic. Getting a larger pool of available workers will reduce overtime costs.

This was Upper Savannah’s first-ever workforce development federal grant application and the successful award is a win for everybody in the region.

“Every resident wants fast, professional emergency medical services,” Skinner said. “They want to know if they have a need, that they can call and somebody will come. It’s a universal need.”

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Town of McCormick Receives CDBG Funding to Continue Downtown Streetscape Improvements

The Town of McCormick has received a $750,000 grant award in the Fall 2020 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Community Enrichment, Neighborhood Revitalization and Special Projects Round, the S.C. Department of Commerce announced Dec. 8.

Upper Savannah COG Community Development staff submitted the application on behalf of the Town. Fifteen grants were awarded statewide. McCormick’s grant award of $750,000 is the largest of the 15.

CDBG funds were requested to continue the Town of McCormick’s previous streetscape efforts by improving intersections, restriping parking stalls and crosswalks, landscaping, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible parking, and fencing along the railroad. The project will address the need to provide a safe pedestrian route for residents in the Town.

The project will focus on streetscape improvements on W. Augusta and N. Main streets. Sidewalks will be upgraded to meet current standards and new curb and gutter will be installed.

New ADA compliant handicapped parking will be added, and ADA features will be added for sidewalk and crosswalk access. The asphalt will also be upgraded. Intersection improvements will be made, lines will be repainted, and necessary signage will be installed.

A safe landscaped pedestrian walkway will be added between Town Hall and the McCormick County SC Works building, providing safe pedestrian access to and from the improved public parking area behind Town Hall.

Landscaping will be added throughout the project area providing shade and beautification, consistent with the previously completed Main Street Streetscape also with CDBG funding.

Brick pavers will be used to install a speed table and plaza in front of Town Hall. This will help reduce vehicle speeds down W. Augusta Street, and enhance public safety at park access point. A seat wall/retaining wall and benches will be installed as a focal point and link to the entrance of the park. Security cameras will be installed in the project area to provide additional public safety.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

CARES Act Funds Available for Loans to Businesses Affected by Pandemic

Businesses which were temporarily forced to close, experienced loss of revenue or were otherwise negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic might be eligible for business loans from the new Upper Savannah CARES Revolving Loan Fund (CARES RLF). Also, businesses whose products or services are in high demand due to the pandemic could be eligible.

The lending area includes Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, Lexington, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $1.5 billion to the EDA for economic development assistance programs to “help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” As part of the CARES Act, funding was provided to expand Upper Savannah’s RLF capacity.

The total available in the new CARES RLF is $760,000.

Working capital loans of up to $50,000 are available at terms of up to five years at a 1 percent fixed rate. Real estate and equipment loans of up to $100,000 are available at terms of up to 15 years at a 2.5 percent fixed rate.  This is not a forgivable loan.

“We are very fortunate to be able to receive these new CARES Act RLF funds on behalf of our Upper Savannah region,” said Upper Savannah Assistant Director Sam Leaman, who administers the loans.

“These funds will not only help businesses survive the economic fallout from this pandemic but provide economic resiliency going forward,” he said.

Leaman has operated the original RLF since it was created 32 years ago to be an alternative funding source available to start-up and expanding businesses in the Upper Savannah Council of Governments region of Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Saluda counties. In 2015, Newberry and Lexington counties were added to the eligible list of counties.

Generally, this program is designed to fill the gap between the financing available from traditional private sector sources (i.e. bank loans and equity) and the total financing need. To be eligible, these projects must result in the creation of permanent jobs and leverage private sector investment. This RLF continues to operate and has funds available but at less attractive terms.

The new CARES RLF is available to businesses partially or completely closed by local or state officials to stop the spread of the coronavirus such as restaurants, certain retail stores, personal services, etc.

Loans are also available to businesses forced to close or curtail operations due to employees testing positive for the coronavirus.

Businesses experiencing loss of revenue due to the general economic downturn or logistical problems are also eligible as well as those negatively impacted by other factors linked to the pandemic.

Businesses whose products or services are in high demand due to the virus will also be targeted for lending. For example, there are businesses in the Upper Savannah Region that manufacture medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, and components for medical equipment.

Borrowers, lenders and others interested in helping small businesses are encouraged to call Leaman at 864-941-8056 for more information.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Redesigned USCOG Website Provides Access to Information on Many Services

Many job seekers and employers have received help from the SC Works System, family members have benefited when an aging parent receives home-delivered meals or transportation to the doctor, and thousands of residents are enjoying better water and sewer service thanks to grant awards to their communities.

These are just a few of the activities citizens in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Saluda counties might be familiar with through actual experiences. But many do not know the significant role that the Upper Savannah Council of Governments (USCOG) plays in these services.

Information about these services is now easier to access.

With the help of local company AJ Design and Marketing LLC, USCOG recently redesigned its website www.uppersavannah.com. The website provides information on these activities as well as a staff list of contacts.

The website can also be an important tool for community leaders who are seeking assistance for their counties, cities and towns. The website includes Census statistics for each of the six counties and their 24 municipalities in the Upper Savannah Region as well as information about COVID-19 relief funding available to eligible small businesses.

“I am really excited about our new look,” said Upper Savannah Office Assistant Shannon Hill, who assisted with the website update created by AJ Design and Marketing’s Andy Johnston. “Our website is so much easier to view and use, and it is easily accessible on mobile devices.

“The internet is usually the first go to place when looking for help and this site will keep us connected,” Hill continued. “As someone that has been a part of bringing this all together, I am so proud of the final product and can’t wait for others to see it.”

Upper Savannah COG was the first multi-county planning and development organization to be created in South Carolina (in 1967) when Governor Robert E. McNair signed legislation establishing 10 planning districts.

Other planning district (councils of government) office locations in South Carolina include Greenville, Aiken, Rock Hill, Columbia, Florence, Georgetown, North Charleston, Sumter and Yemassee. Information about the other planning districts can be accessed at www.sccogs.org.

USCOG assists with a wide scope of services including help for senior citizens and persons with disabilities, workforce development assistance for employers and job seekers, community development with a focus on community improvements and infrastructure (water and sewer), grant writing and administration, transportation planning, as well as loans to small businesses and other economic development activities for the purpose of saving and creating jobs.

USCOG also offers consultation and technical assistance to local governments on a day-to-day basis. Upper Savannah provides training for elected officials and has hosted numerous workshops to get planning commissioners, zoning appeals board members and staff certified.

USCOG’s imprint is all over the Region, ranging from its partnership in making Highway 72 four lanes (transportation planning) from Interstate 26 to the Georgia border, to helping bring in new industries by providing their sites with water and sewer service (economic development grants), to downtown revitalization projects in several cities and towns (community development grants), to establishing the Upper Savannah Regional Job Fair in partnership with Piedmont Technical College and other agencies (workforce development).

While this imprint will remain for decades, the individual needs of the region’s citizens grow daily. For instance, a job seeker needs to connect with an employer or learn about training for a new vocation. Or a concerned family member needs the comfort of knowing that home-delivered meals, transportation or home care is available to their aging parent, grandparent or sibling. USCOG’s redesigned website will help residents find information about these services.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Region Receives Three CDBG Grants to Upgrade Sewer Lines

The Upper Savannah region received three grant awards in the Spring 2020 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Infrastructure Round, the S.C. Department of Commerce announced last week.

Upper Savannah COG Community Development staff submitted three grant applications in the round and all three were awarded. Twenty-three grants were awarded statewide.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application deadline was moved back twice due to COVID-19 restrictions, from mid-April to June 15 and finally to July 1.

The City of Clinton, Greenwood County and Laurens County received grant awards.

The Clinton Mill Sewer Upgrade will be funded with $750,000 from CDBG, $500,000 from the Rural Infrasctructure Authority (RIA), and a $149,720 local match for a total project cost of $1,399.720.

The project involves upgrading sewer lines in Clinton Mill Village area, an LMI neighborhood in City of Clinton. The City is currently under Consent Order from SCDHEC due to sanitary sewer overflows in collection system. Proposed project would aid in reduction of inflow and infiltration to the City’s collection system. Project improvement would benefit an estimated 180 units.

Greenwood County will receive $750,000 in CDBG funds with a $262,317 local match for a total of $1,012,317 for the Baptist Sewer Upgrade. The project involves upgrading sewer lines in the Baptist Avenue Area in Greenwood.

The area includes Gilliam Avenue, Baptist Avenue, Evans Street, Percival Avenue, Singleton Street, Byrd Street, Tanyard Avenue, Bay Street and Milwee Avenue. The project will benefit an estimated 90 units.

The Laurens County Highway 56/76 Sewer Upgrades project will receive $715,000 in CDBG funding and a $120,000 local match for total project cost of $835,000. The project proposes to repair two major sections of trunk line at the intersections of Hwy 76/Springdale Drive and Hwy 56/Springdale Drive.

Improvements to intersections will include installing new lines, pipes and manholes and reconnection of force mains. The improvements will benefit an estimated 2,300 units, approximately half the City of Clinton’s population.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

USCOG Assists with Census Event as SC Trails Most of Nation in Census Response Rates

Twelve families fill out Census forms at Laurens County event in Clinton Sept. 3

USCOG staff partnered with United Way of Laurens County and the U.S. Bureau of the Census to offer an opportunity for Laurens County residents to complete their Census forms as they picked up free school supplies for their children. The event was timely as South Carolina ranks 46th nationally in Census response rates.

A total of 12 families had not completed their Census form as of the event on September 3 in Clinton. Census staff brought iPads to fill out the forms online for the families as they socially distanced in their cars for the drive-thru supply distribution.

The lucky first 10 families who filled out their Census form received a gift card to Wal-Mart from funds applied for by USCOG. The Census can still be filled out online at my2020Census.gov or over the phone at 1-844-330-2020 until Sept. 30, 2020.

Upper Savannah Government Services Director Rick Green said that with the deadline approaching, there is a lot of catching up to do in South Carolina.

“Right now, South Carolina ranks 46th in response rates among the 50 states,” said Green, who assisted the Census Bureau at the Laurens County event. “Only one of our six counties is slightly over the state response rate. We have a lot of ground to cover to improve.”

Green is concentrating on senior citizens filling out their forms.

“Typically, senior citizens have a lower online response rate,” he said. “I’m working with our Aging Division staff to find some more opportunities to partner with groups who might serve seniors and other hard-to-reach groups in the region.

“COVID-19 requirements don’t make any of this type of in-person, data gathering activity any easier.”

Green said accurate Census counts are critical in Upper Savannah’s efforts to bring funding to the region.

“Census is important to what we all do at Upper Savannah and how we do it,” he said. “If we get an undercount, we lose resources to other areas that got a better count. If we lose resources, we can’t help our local governments and the people in the region as well.

“We need to push through the end of September and try to get as many people to respond online as possible. These Census numbers will impact funding and resources over the next 10 years and we can’t afford to lose out.”

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

USCOG Wins a 2020 NADO National Award for Involvement in Ridge Spring Plaza Project

Town of Ridge Spring used CDBG funds to redevelop small parking area into a plaza

Upper Savannah COG has won a 2020 NADO (National Association of Development Organizations) Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Award for its involvement in the Town of Ridge Spring Town Square Plaza Project.

The Saluda County town of 910 people was able to redevelop a small parking area into a plaza to accommodate both more parking to support customers of adjacent businesses and an outdoor space for community events and festivals.

Businesses line both sides of Highway 23 and one side of the Town Square that is located between Highway 23 and the railroad line. During the day, the Square’s few parking places were quickly filled during busy times. People would park along any available spot to do business in the Central Business District.

These illegally parked vehicles and the lack of continuous sidewalks contributed to a dangerous environment for pedestrians. There was no marked crosswalk and access for those who may have a disability was limited.

The Town wanted to improve parking and make the area safer while at the same time creating an area for town events and festivals. Plans were drawn up to address the needs expressed by the elected officials, town merchants, and the public.

USCOG helped the town put its ideas into a grant application for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and that application was eventually funded in December 2018.

Work began on the CDBG project in November 2019 and was recently completed with Upper Savannah’s Community Development staff administering the project.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) assisted the Town in conducting a sidewalk survey and in developing a plan to encourage more residents to walk and be active. Upper Savannah also participated in the sidewalk survey.

Now the Town has improved and expanded parking (from approximately 25 to 46 spaces), safer sidewalks, a dedicated crosswalk, and a new venue for Town events.

The Town also has a location for a new downtown farmer’s market. A replica railroad water tank with the town logo has been added as a park feature in the plaza. The Town is also applying for a CDBG grant for a second phase of this project to be submitted in September 2020.

The award was one of six claimed by South Carolina councils of government and 79 nationally who are members of NADO. The Impact Awards program honors NADO members for their creative approaches to advancing regional economic development and improved quality of life.

These projects have made significant impacts on their regions and demonstrate the diversity of services and program delivery provided by regional development organizations across the country. The 2020 class of awardees consists of projects from 48 organizations spanning 19 states.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

USCOG Receives $400,000 from CARES Act; $760,000 for new Revolving Loan Fund

The Upper Savannah Council of Governments (USCOG) will receive a $400,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant and $760,000 for an additional Revolving Loan Fund from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help businesses in the USCOG Region impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are unusual grant awards to address unusual times,” USCOG Assistant Director Sam Leaman said.

The EDA offered Economic Development Districts such as USCOG invitations to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s EDA received $1.5 billion in CARES Act funding, including $238 million for the Southeast Region. Upper Savannah applied for and received $400,000 for a two-year project for economic development and recovery planning purposes.

Some of the grant will be used to fund an economic recovery specialist staff person to develop plans and strategies to help local governments, businesses and other stakeholder organizations in the Region respond to and recover from the pandemic. Leaman said the grant will fund this position for two years.

The grant will also fund the development of an economic recovery and resilience plan to address the economic impacts of the pandemic. This plan will include recommendations for how the Upper Savannah Region can better withstand and recover from such events.

This plan will be part of the existing Upper Savannah Region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a five-year plan which serves as a road map for strategic partners to advance policies, programs and projects that support economic opportunity.

“The benefit for the Region is that we will have a plan that helps address the economic impacts of the pandemic so that businesses and local governments will be better able to cope with any similar events in the future,” Leaman said. “When these things happen, they can bounce back a little quicker with this plan in place.”

EDA has been involved for many years in economic adjustments after natural disasters such as hurricanes as well as major layoffs, for instance textile mill closures that occurred several years ago in the Region when many of those jobs went overseas.

“This pandemic is a different kind of disaster, but the economic effect is the same,” Leaman said. “People are losing jobs.”

The $760,000 in the new RLF is to be loaned to businesses in Upper Savannah COG’s lending area over the next two years to alleviate sudden and severe economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.

The lending area includes Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, Lexington, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties.

“We will be using this money to help businesses who have been impacted by the pandemic,” Leaman said. “These are not forgivable loans. They are to be repaid.”

This RLF is separate from the other EDA-funded revolving loan fund administered by USCOG. Leaman will work with local banks to identify pandemic recovery needs for the new RLF.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

USCOG Continues to Serve Region as COVID Restrictions Enter Third Month

Workforce Development

Workforce development staff and partner agencies are highly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as 18,385 workers in the Upper Savannah Workforce Area have applied for unemployment benefits through May 9, according to numbers released by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW).

Predictions indicate that about 18 percent of COVID-19 laid off workers will not be recalled to their jobs, representing more than 3,000 workers in the Upper Savannah Region.

The Upper Savannah Workforce System’s goal is to help those laid off workers quickly transition into new opportunities. Plans include helping workers identify transferable skills and build on to the training that they already have. But some workers will require training to make the move to a new career.

It is expected that workers without a high school diploma, those with a poor work history and those with a criminal record will have the hardest time finding new jobs as employers have a larger pool to pick from.

Some employers will have a difficult time recruiting in the short-term. Unemployment insurance benefits have been enhanced by $600 a week. Some workers are wary of returning to work because they earn more money drawing benefits. UI isn’t a long-term option so the workforce system has to get recipients to start planning their next move.

A higher unemployment rate exists at the same time that budget cuts have been proposed for the local workforce area. The U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act did not include additional funding for training and case management (Upper Savannah Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) or the job matching system (SCDEW).

Plans are to re-open S.C. Works Centers to the public June 3 in Greenwood and Newberry counties and June 4 in Laurens County. Other centers will re-open in some form before July. To allow for social distancing more space will be leased temporarily. Service will be by appointment only initially. Centers will have security.

While centers have been closed, workforce staff have been working remotely communicating with job seekers and employers by phone and email. Upper Savannah Council of Governments has taken a leadership role in identifying businesses contributing to the recovery effort and helping them find staff.

Aging

Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging Ombudsman Ericca Livingston visits a nursing home as part of Operation Spread the Joy.

Upper Savannah Area Agency
on Aging Ombudsman Ericca Livingston visits a nursing home as part of Operation Spread the Joy.

The Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging is continuing to be highly affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. But Operation Spread the Joy brought excitement for some area seniors and one Upper Savannah staff member earlier this month.

Operation Spread the Joy was a collaboration between the S.C. Department of Corrections and the S.C. Department on Aging (SCDOA). Inmates made cards and gifts for nursing home residents across South Carolina as part of an effort to lift spirits during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Hundreds of inmates drew cards, made jewelry, and knitted things like caps and footies, stuffed animals, bookmarks, blankets and other comfort items. About 2,000 items were delivered to nursing home residents across the state on May 7, at a time when visitors aren’t allowed into nursing homes or prisons.

“For many of our residents in the facilities, these cards and special items may be the only things they receive during this pandemic,” SCDOA Director Connie Munn said. “We are grateful for the partnership with the Department of Corrections and their efforts to reach out to spread the joy to our older residents.”

USCOG Ombudsman Ericca Livingston participated in Operation Spread the Joy. “It was wonderful being able to see and wave at my residents,” she said. “It made my day to see their faces lighting up with smiles when they saw what was made especially for them.”

Meanwhile, the Farmers Market voucher program for low-income Greenwood County seniors returns this spring. However, changes were necessary due to COVID-19.

Seniors 60 and older must apply online this year and $25 vouchers to eligible seniors will be distributed in June through a curbside pickup. While online registration will be a challenge for many seniors, the limit of exposure to COVID-19 is critical to the senior population.

Seniors can visit dss.sc.gov to complete an online application through May 25, 2020. Once on website, click on Assistance Programs and then Food and Nutrition Programs. After application completion, the S.C. Department of Social Services (DSS) will provide eligibility notification and voucher pick-up information for qualified applicants.

Each eligible person will receive $25 worth of vouchers that may be used to purchase fresh produce at participating markets. Upper Savannah AAA staff will be involved in distributing the vouchers during curbside pickup.

Upper Savannah assessors are doing a record number of assessments as the AAA continues to receive new referrals for all services. Clients are added to services based on a priority score. The AAA continues to add clients to home-delivered meal services, home care services and critical medical transportation services.

Also, additional funding has been received through the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These funds have been earmarked for home-delivered meals and additional supportive services in our region.

The AAA’s contracted providers for meal and transportation services are facing very difficult challenges, both financially and logistically. Staff has been furloughed and volunteer numbers have declined. Transportation reimbursement for group dining transportation has ceased due to temporary group dining center closures while transportation to medical appointments has declined. There is an increased burden on contractors to provide more home-delivered meals to seniors with fewer available resources.

“We applaud them for their dedication to continue to serve the senior population under difficult circumstances,” Upper Savannah Aging Director Linda McAllister said.

Community Development

Social distancing requirements continue to affect the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) process as USCOG Community Development staff prepare applications for sewer improvement projects in the City of Clinton and in Greenwood and Laurens counties.

The S.C. Department of Commerce extended the CDBG infrastructure funding application deadline to June 15, 2020. This round of applications typically due in April requires door-to-door income surveys for qualification purposes, according to Community Development Coordinator Brittany Hallman.

Currently, entities and subrecipients are working to obtain the required surveys to meet the new deadline, while complying with the restrictions of COVID-19.

“We’re stilling working with the localities to collect data for the income surveys,” Hallman said. “So far we have one locality that was able to successfully complete their income surveys for their CDBG application. I’m working on finalizing the data for the application.”

Meanwhile, the Planning Grant deadline was extended to June 5, 2020. The new Planning Grant application has been submitted to Commerce ahead of schedule with award notice expected in July.

The yearly Planning Grant allows continued CDBG support to the Upper Savannah region. This allows CDBG staff funding assistance to work with local governments for project development, needs assessments and technical assistance in the CDBG program.

“The open Planning Grant (for FY 2020) is being prepared for close-out,” she said. “The close-out documents are finalized and waiting for the final de-obligation form from the SC Department of Commerce. Once we receive this form, the close-out package will be ready for Greenwood County’s signature.

Government Services

Census sign in McCormick

Census sign in McCormick

Social distancing requirements have changed the way public meetings are held, and Government Services Director Rick Green said he continues to get phone calls about how to hold public meetings during these restrictions.

Green has advised that local governments work closely with their attorney for the best advice on how to run public meetings in their community.

The Census Bureau temporarily suspended Census 2020 field data collection activities in March. Steps are already being taken to reactivate field offices beginning June 1, 2020, in preparation for the resumption of field data collection operations.

The Census Bureau has extended the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020, so people can still fill out their Census form online at my2020census.gov, or over the phone at 1-844-330-2020.

Green is urging municipalities to continue to promote Census activities as correct Census counts mean more funding for their communities.

Economic Development

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has published a Notice of Funding Opportunity related to the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This includes funding for various types of projects including infrastructure, revolving loan funds, planning and technical assistance. Upper Savannah is working with several potential applicants to develop and submit applications.

Meanwhile, the EDA funded projects in the Upper Savannah region continue to progress without interruption. However, the Economic Development Division’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) has been affected by COVID-19. RLF borrowers who need assistance due to economic slowdowns are getting help through short-term payment deferrals.