News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

FEMA Makes Funding Available to Assist Local Governments with COVID-19 Response

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is making funding available to assist local governments with their public health and emergency management activities supporting the prevention of, preparation for, and response to the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency.

Through this funding opportunity, FEMA will award funding to support planning and operational readiness for COVID-19 preparedness and response, development of tools and strategies for prevention, preparedness, and response; and ongoing communication and coordination among federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial partners throughout the response.

FEMA encourages funding to be used for mitigation activities related to slowing the spread of COVID-19, integration of emergency management and public health operations, collection and display of public, private, and governmental data of hospital bed and ventilator capacity and usage; collection and display of PPE inventories and establishment of burn rates to forecast future needs; planning for alternate care sites; and identifying all sources to surge medical professionals.

Funding also can be used to assist emergency managers with implementing community lifelines to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The lifelines concept simplifies incident information to provide decision makers with clearly identified impacts to critical community services and root causes that inform response and recovery actions.

For more information about applying for FEMA funding, contact Brittany Kelly, Public Assistance Program Manager with the S.C. Emergency Management Division at 803 367-7756 or bkelly@emd.sc.gov.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Upper Savannah Continues to Serve Region While Facing COVID Restrictions; Each Division Meets Different Challenges

Government Services

Social distancing requirements have changed the Census 2020 schedule and the way public meetings are held, according to Government Services Director Rick Green.

The Census Bureau temporarily suspended Census 2020 field data collection activities in March, according to Green. 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.

Census 2020 Response Rates

The latest Census response rates are listed in the accompanying table.

Green has followed media reports of how public meetings are being handled and has fielded phone calls.

“There have been several questions about how to hold a public meeting during these restrictions,” Green explained. “Planning commissions often have time-sensitive proposals sent to them that require specific action within a certain time frame or the proposal is deemed approved by the planning commission.

“For instance, if a developer applies to a planning commission for a new subdivision, the commission has to either vote yes or no on the application within 60 days or the project is considered approved and moves on to the next phase. If both parties agree to a time extension, that can help, but that is not always possible.

“Social media and programs like Zoom are popular, but not everyone is internet savvy and technology often has glitches,” Green continued.

“I have read media reports about meetings occurring with some elected or appointed officials in the Chamber and some appearing from the internet.

“I have also heard of meetings continuing with strict physical distancing requirements observed by both officials and the public. Local governments should work closely with their attorney for the best advice on how to run public meetings in their community.”

Workforce Development

Workforce development staff and partner agencies are highly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as more than 12,000 workers in the Upper Savannah Workforce Area have applied for unemployment.

The need for assistance is widespread due to furloughs caused by the temporary closures of restaurant dining and many other businesses, plus temporary and possibly even permanent closures of some companies.

Unemployment claims in the Upper Savannah area between March 21 and April 18 are 12,151.

Upper Savannah workforce staff is working actively in several areas, including conducting employer outreach to connect businesses with workers if they are hiring, or to unemployment information if they are furloughing workers.

Staff is providing additional recruitment support for businesses that are leading COVID-19 recovery efforts. These businesses have included medical equipment manufacturers, companies that make components for safety equipment, and food suppliers.

Upper Savannah has been echoing the message from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) and other partners to inform job seekers about resources such as unemployment insurance (UI), remote Wi-Fi access points, community resources and small business loans. COVID-19 related content has been added to the Upper Savannah SC Works Facebook page.

Staff has revised internal procedures at SC Works Centers in each Upper Savannah region county so workforce staff can offer Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services remotely.

Staff has also developed the capability to equip current clients with technology and access to technology so they can study at home.

In addition, staff have ramped up the training of key medical personnel to deepen the labor pool and has requested additional Rapid Response funding to offer On-the-Job Training to dislocated workers.

Community Development

Social distancing requirements have affected 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 has 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.

Community Development Director Keith Smith and Community Development Coordinator Brittany Hallman hold a required public hearing for one of the CDBG applications via the virtual platform Zoom.

Currently, entities and subrecipients are working to obtain the required surveys to meet the new deadline, while complying with the restrictions of COVID-19. They are using additional resources such as mailing income surveys to households that benefit from the CDBG projects.

As part of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements, USCOG staff is required to hold public hearings for the application submission. HUD has allowed CDBG recipients to use a virtual meeting platform to hold hearings. The virtual platform chosen at this time is Zoom. Application hearings for the CDBG infrastructure applications were held the week of April 20, with 27 people attending one of the hearings.

Meanwhile, the Planning Grant deadline was extended to June 5, 2020. Application hearing for this grant will also be held on Zoom. Upper Savannah is working to close-out the current Planning Grant and submit a new application on or before the extended deadline.

The 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.

“This particular grant isn’t highly impacted by the current COVID-19 situation,” Hallman said. “The S.C. Dept of Commerce is still functioning as well as the local governments. As long as these entities are still functioning, USCOG is able to close out and submit the required documents for this particular application.”

Aging

Perhaps no other group has been more affected by the pandemic than seniors, who have been encouraged to stay home due to their vulnerability to COVID-19. Therefore, senior center group dining sites are temporarily closed.

Home-delivered meals (HDMs) continue to be provided to homebound seniors and during the pandemic, HDMs are also being provided to the group dining participants, Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Director Linda McAllister said.

Additional funding allowed the Upper Savannah AAA to serve around 50 seniors who were previously on the home-delivered meals waiting list, enabling these additional seniors to receive meals during this state of emergency.

Essential transportation services continue to be available to clients. The AAA has halted Minor Home Repair services but continues to provide all other services in the region.

Hand sanitizer provided by SC Dept.
on Aging for use in state’s senior centers

“The South Carolina Department on Aging provided hand sanitizer to all of the Area Agencies on Aging in the state,” said McAllister, who replaced retiring AAA Director Vanessa Wideman April 1.

“We distributed a gallon (of hand sanitizer) to each of our senior centers in the region to be used by staff and volunteers on the front-line delivering meals and transportation to our seniors,” McAllister said. “Hats off to our providers, their staff and volunteers for continuing to serve our seniors.”

Economic Development

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.

The Project Café Infrastructure Project (water and sewer service to Teijin) was substantially completed in November and is now in the closeout phase, according to Economic Development Director Sam Leaman.

The Piedmont Technical College Upstate Center for Manufacturing Excellence is due to be completed on May 1.

At the same time, projects in Abbeville and Laurens counties are mobilizing for construction start. These include the Long Cane Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade, Stagecoach Road Waterline and the Milam Road Elevated Water Tank.

RLF borrowers who need assistance due to economic slowdowns are getting help.

“Our small business borrowers are experiencing challenges as you might expect,” Leaman said. “After speaking with all borrowers, we identified five that were experiencing severe economic distress.

“For these, we offered a short-term payment deferral,” he explained. “Thankfully, some businesses had not experienced any downturn in sales and have been able to make their regular payments on schedule and more importantly maintain their workforce.”

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Census 2020 Questionnaire Return Rates Below National Average in Region, SC

Upper Savannah Government Services Director Rick Green is urging residents of the Region to fill out their Census 2020 forms after seeing the latest response rates in the 20-25 percent range for all six counties.

“Census information is very important to all our communities and to all our work here at the Upper Savannah Council of Governments,” Green said. “I would like to encourage everyone who has internet access to fill out their form as soon as they can.”

Census results tableAnyone who needs help filling out their Census information online can call Rick Green at (864) 941-8072. Otherwise, they can fill out their own information with or without the Census letter at 2020census.gov.

A letter was mailed to residences beginning this month to invite citizens to fill out Census forms online showing their information effective April 1, 2020. A second letter will be sent if there is no reply, and a third letter with a Census form if still no reply. After that, if still no reply, a Census worker will visit that residence.

“Filling out the form online now means you won’t have a person knocking on your door to fill out the form in person in the future,” Green said. “It takes about five minutes to complete the Census form online.”

City, town and county clerks and administrators recently expressed concern about the lack of Census 2020 publicity and possible lack of awareness within their communities. Census counts are crucial for federal funds and representation.

The Census 2020 national response rate as of March 24 was 26.2 percent, with South Carolina at close to 24 percent as the accompanying chart indicates.

Upper Savannah county rates range from 24.9 percent in Greenwood County to 20.6 in Saluda County.

“I don’t have a point in time comparison, but ultimately in Census 2010, South Carolina had a mail-in response rate of 64.7 percent, and as of March 24, 2020 the state has a 23.9 percent response rate,” Green said.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Emergency Management Official Discusses Coronavirus with Public Administrators

Greenwood County Emergency Management Coordinator George McKinney discusses the Coronavirus at the USCOG Public Administrators meeting.

Greenwood County Emergency Management Coordinator George McKinney gave a Coronavirus update at the Public Administrators meeting Wednesday at Upper Savannah COG.

“The biggest things we can do right now are education and preparation,” McKinney told the seven administrators who attended.

At the time McKinney was speaking, there were 60 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, and nine known deaths. Almost all the deaths were of elderly with underlying health conditions.

There were no known cases in South Carolina at that time, McKinney said.

“It’s a brand-new virus that we haven’t seen before. There are still a lot of unknowns,” McKinney said.

Focusing on “what we do know,” McKinney said, “The majority, 80 percent, of the individuals (worldwide) have very mild symptoms. Temperatures below 100 degrees, coughing, shortness of breath… the ones that aren’t (with mild symptoms) are over the age of 60 and have underlying health issues such as cardiovascular, respiratory.”

He said that worldwide, fewer than one percent who have contracted the virus under the age of 50 have died.

“If you are infected, you are not contagious until you start showing the symptoms of coughing, sneezing, etc.,” McKinney said. “That is very different from the flu. If you have the flu, even though you may not be showing symptoms, you can spread it. That’s a good thing (about Coronavirus). If you do have these (Coronavirus) symptoms, quarantine yourself immediately and contact your doctor.”

McKinney recommended washing your hands often. Use hand sanitizer, if you can find it.

“If you can find it on the shelf in Greenwood County, good luck,” he said.

Preparation for avoiding the spread of the disease if it comes to South Carolina can include wearing gloves if exchanging paperwork or money with the public. McKinney suggested cross-training for critical positions if someone has to be out of work.

McKinney shared the Department of Health and Environmental Control number 1-855-472-3432 with the administrators for more information about the virus.

Census 2020 was also discussed during the meeting. A letter will be mailed to residences beginning this month to invite them to fill out Census forms online showing their information effective April 1, 2020. A second letter will be sent if there is no reply, and a third letter with a Census form if still no reply. After that, if still no reply, a Census worker will visit that residence.

Administrators expressed concern about the lack of publicity about the Census and possible lack of awareness within the community. Census counts are crucial for federal funds and representation.

USCOG Government Services Director Rick Green said he will be assisting by using his laptop in senior centers to help seniors fill out forms. Upper Savannah Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner said SC Works Center computers in all of USCOG’s counties will be available to fill out Census forms.

Skinner informed the administrators that the Upper Savannah Regional Job Fair will be held at Piedmont Technical College from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 19. Other job fairs in different counties have also been scheduled.

Other topics discussed included the Capital Sales Tax referendum in Greenwood County and state retirement benefits for workers who change state jobs.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Census Specialist Asks Clerks to Promote Census 2020 in their Communities

U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Shell speaks at county, municipal clerks meeting at Upper Savannah COG.

U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Shell speaks at county, municipal clerks meeting at Upper Savannah COG.

With Census 2020 Day looming less than two months away, U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Shell is asking county and municipal clerks to get the word out in their communities.

Shell was a guest speaker at the county and municipal clerks meeting at USCOG Feb. 11. Census Day is April 1, 2020, the reference day used to count each person.

“This is where we need you to help us get the word out in your cities and towns how important it is to participate in the Census,” she told the nine clerks in attendance.

“There is more than 675 billion dollars that will be distributed among the states based on the Census count. Primarily, the Census is two things… money and power (congressional representation).”

“If your citizens don’t participate in the Census, they become invisible for the next 10 years in terms of federal funds and representation,” Shell added.

The clerks each shared what they have already done or have planned to increase Census awareness in their communities.

Census 2020 logoThe U.S. Constitution mandates that our nation conducts a Census count every 10 years. Census information is also used by companies, retail stores and restaurants when looking for new locations or expansions.

Shell said senior citizens and undocumented immigrants are among groups least likely to respond to the Census because they do not want to share information. But they need to know “the Census is safe and secure. We do not share our information with anyone,” Shell said.

Shell also said approximately one million children ages 5 and younger were not counted during the last Census nationwide due to reasons that include split custody where neither the mother nor father list the child.

Shell said residents will receive a notification in the mail on or after March 12th requesting that they complete the Census form. Beginning in March 2020, Census forms can be completed from official mailings, online, or by calling the Census 1-800 number.

College students, prisoners, long-term care residents, and those in homeless shelters all must be counted as well.

Shell told the clerks she is determined to “make sure the State of South Carolina and every county gets what they rightly deserve for our citizens. Have something in your towns and cities. Be visible. Let people know that you and your town supports the Census.”

Clerks also received a legislative update from Municipal Association of South Carolina Field Services Manager Jeff Shacker as well as workforce development information from USCOG Workforce Development Deputy Director Billy Morgan.

For more information about Census 2020 and how to help your community complete an accurate count, contact USCOG Government Services Director Rick Green at 864-941-8064.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Upper Savannah’s Ready to Roll Wins SC COGs Regional Project of the Year

Upper Savannah Council of Governments Board of Directors members and USCOG staff celebrate the SC COGs Regional Project of the Year presented at the SC COGs Annual Training Conference in November. USCOG Board Chairman Faye Thomas is holding the plaque.

The Upper Savannah COG’s national award-winning workforce development project Ready to Roll has been recognized again, this time receiving the prestigious SC COGs Regional Project of the Year honors for 2019.

The award was announced at the SC COGs Annual Training Conference held Nov. 24-26 in Myrtle Beach. The state’s COGs were eligible to submit Regional Project of the Year nominations, and six were submitted.

Earlier in the fall, Ready to Roll, which so far has helped train 76 truck drivers in the Upper Savannah Region over the past year, received a 2019 Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO).

In April 2018, the SC Workforce Development Board issued a grant announcement for innovative projects. An application was entered for the proposed Ready to Roll project and Piedmont Technical College (PTC) was selected to be the lead applicant.

In June 2018, the grant award of more than $300,000 was announced. USCOG then organized a focus group meeting and surveyed local construction industry leaders, who identified the need for commercial truck drivers.

Ready to Roll is a joint project between SC Works and other partners, spearheaded by PTC. The program began Oct. 1, 2018. Since then, several drivers have not only been trained but have been put to work.

Students have also received online certification from the S.C. Asphalt Paver’s Association during their time not spent inside a truck and have also learned basic employment skills such as resume writing, interviewing skills and other workplace skills.

For more information about Ready to Roll, contact Upper Savannah Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner at 864-941-8074.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Region Receives Three CDBG Grants; New Fire Truck Arrives in Ware Shoals

Town of Ware Shoals Fire Truck

The Town of Ware Shoals received its new fire truck November 12. The Town was awarded a Community Development Block Grant for the truck two years ago. The truck is seen here at the Town’s new fire station which opened earlier this year.

The Upper Savannah region received three grant awards in the Fall 2019 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Community Enrichment, Neighborhood Revitalization and Special Projects Round, the S.C. Department of Commerce announced Nov. 14.

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

The City of Greenwood received $177,571 in CDBG funds in the Community Enrichment category to demolish and clear 10 vacant and condemned houses located on Owens Street, Park Alley, Park Avenue and Washington Avenue southwest of downtown.

The Town of Johnston received $454,545 in CDBG funds in the Community Enrichment category to purchase a new fire truck to replace a 1973 model currently used by the Town of Johnston Fire Department.

The Town of Edgefield received $150,000 in CDBG funds in the Special Projects category to develop a “pocket park” at Main and Jones streets in downtown at the site of a former bank drive-through/ATM.

Plans for the Edgefield site include possible pavilion, farmer’s market, small interactive water feature, bronze statue of a person of local significance, picnic tables, a raised stage, and space for community events such as “movie night.” Plans also include renovating the former bank drive-through building, including a new roof.

The Town of Ware Shoals celebrated the arrival of its new fire truck Nov. 12. The new truck will replace an outdated pumper which will help provide adequate fire protection in the Town. The CDBG request for $500,000 was awarded in November 2017, with a local match of $66,890 for total project estimate of $566,890.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

USCOG Workforce Development Project Wins National Award

NADO Impact Award photo

National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) past president Scott Koons, third from left, Executive Director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council in Gainesville, Fla., presents a 2019 Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Award to Upper Savannah Board of Directors representatives, from left, Wes McAllister, Diane Anderson and Albert Talbert during the NADO Annual Training Conference in Reno, Nev.

The Upper Savannah COG has received a 2019 Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) for the Ready to Roll Project which has helped train several truck drivers in the region.

In October 2017, the USCOG Board of Directors heard S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) Secretary Christy Hall’s detailed overview of an SCDOT plan for repairing roads and bridges across the state over the next 10 years. A major focus of this plan would be the utilization of additional revenues from the gas tax increase approved in the S.C. Roads Bill earlier in 2017.

As of 2017, South Carolina had the highest rural road fatality rate in the nation and the Plan would use targeted data to identify and implement safety features on 1,000 miles of the state’s deadliest roads. SCDOT planned to replace 465 bridges over the 10 years. The Plan also would include improving 140 miles of existing interstate highways while doubling the road-resurfacing program that had been under-funded for three decades. South Carolina’s transportation budget would increase from approximately $100 million (in 2016) to around $800 million in annual revenue by 2024 due to the two cents per gallon, per year gas tax increase and additional vehicle-related fees.

Among those attending the Upper Savannah Board meeting was USCOG Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner, who realized that an increased workforce would be needed to complete the 10-Year Plan. The increased spending would be the equivalent of a new manufacturing plant coming to the state, she believed. Construction contractors would need local workers to be able to put in competitive bids. With a tight labor force, Skinner realized that there would be an increased need for skilled trade workers.

As a result of the meeting, Skinner and her staff started researching needs and the Ready to Roll idea was born. In April 2018, the SC Workforce Development Board issued a grant announcement for innovative projects. An application was entered for the proposed Ready to Roll project and Piedmont Technical College was selected to be the lead applicant. In June 2018, a grant award of more than $300,000 was announced. USCOG then organized a focus group meeting and surveyed local construction industry leaders, who identified the primary skill gap as commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills.

Ready to Roll is a joint project between SC Works and other partners, spearheaded by PTC, which serves USCOG’s seven-county region. The college had previously identified this need within the industry; however, it did not quite have the means to start truck driver training until it received grant funds. Once the grant was awarded, PTC was able to not only purchase a dump truck and trailer but also began rolling out plans for the upcoming semester.

At first, the class would host only eight students at a time, but as time moved on (and more training resources were acquired) it would add more students to the roster. The program was to begin Oct. 1, 2018. Since then, several drivers have not only been trained but have been put to work. The students have also received online certification from the S.C. Asphalt Paver’s Association during their time not spent inside a truck and have also learned basic employment skills such as resume writing, interviewing skills and other workplace skills.

NADO’s Impact Awards program recognizes regional development organizations and their partners for improving the economic and community competitiveness of our nation’s regions and local communities.

Award-winning projects were honored during NADO’s 2019 Annual Training Conference, held October 19-22 in Reno, NV. The 2019 class of award recipients consists of 100 projects from 66 organizations spanning 24 states. These projects are presented in an interactive “Story Map” that includes project summaries and partners. The Story Map is available online at https://www.nado.org/impactawards/

“The Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Awards program is an opportunity each year for NADO to publicly recognize the important services that regional development organizations deliver to their local communities,” said 2018-2019 NADO President Scott Koons, executive director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, located in Gainesville. “The projects awarded have made significant impacts on their regions and demonstrate the diversity of programs and resources provided by regional development organizations across the country.”

For more information about this award-winning project, contact Upper Savannah Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner at 864-941-8074.
Since 1967, NADO has provided advocacy, education, networking, and research for the national network of 540 regional development organizations. NADO members provide professional, programmatic, and technical assistance to over 2,300 counties and 15,000 municipalities.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Census 2020 Organizers Stressing the Importance of a Complete Count

Census 2020 kickoff meeting

U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Shell speaks at Census 2020 kickoff meeting hosted by Upper Savannah COG.

“It is our mission to count everyone once… and only once.”

That was a line repeated several times when the Upper Savannah COG hosted a Census 2020 kickoff meeting recently.

U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Shell stressed the importance of an accurate count to those who attended the Sept. 26 meeting. Those in attendance included city, town and county officials, the United Way of Greenwood and Abbeville counties, and other agencies.

Census 2020 is “going to impact us for the next 10 years,” said Shell, who led the mission statement chant several times. “Once the numbers are in December 31st, 2020, these are numbers that we will have to live with for the next 10 years.”

Census 2020 logoThe U.S. Constitution mandates that our nation conducts a Census count every 10 years. U.S. Marshals collected Census information in 1790. The Census began hiring enumerators in 1880.

Today, Complete Count committees in each community are crucial to the Census process and Shell stressed getting organized now. Census workers are currently in the field verifying addresses.

Shell said each person counts toward federal money and Congressional representation. Census information is also used by companies, retail stores and restaurants when looking for new locations or expansions.

Shell stressed that Census information is protected.

“We do not share our information with anyone, not immigration, social security, customs and border, police,” she said. “People think that if they complete their Census form, especially if they are undocumented, that that information will be shared. We have taken many steps to protect your information.”

The Census information is protected for 70 years.

“We are getting ready to release the 1950 Census in 2020,” Shell said.

Shell said residents will receive up to three notifications in the mail and a fourth and final notice making sure they have completed the Census form.

College students, prisoners, long-term care residents, and those in homeless shelters all must be counted. Beginning in March 2020, Census forms can be completed from official mailings, online, or by calling the Census 1-800 number.

For more information about Census 2020 and how to help your community complete an accurate count, contact USCOG Government Services Director Rick Green at 864-941-8064.