The Laurens County Council divvied up $5 million in funds from the federal American Relief Plan Act in early May but were unable to completely fund the requests of all of the 34 non-profit organizations who submitted proposals and five municipalities and other agencies such as the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission for infrastructure-related projects.
“I think it went well,” said Laurens County Council Chairman Brown Patterson. “I think council did a good job, taking all things into consideration when making their allocations. . . . Our goal was to do the most we could for the community as a whole, and I think we did a good job with that.”
The funds were divided into two $2.5 million pools – one for the nonprofits and the other for other agencies and municipalities.
But not everyone left happy, and several nonprofits left empty handed.
The South Carolina Empowerment Centre, which regularly distributes free food to disadvantaged residents of the county, requested $350,000 but were among the five nonprofits to receive no ARPA funds.
Angel Bible, director of programs for the S.C. Empowerment Centre, was frustrated.
“As a lifelong resident of Laurens County and nonprofit leader, seeing the APR funds being allocated to the ‘favorites’ of Laurens County Council was disheartening for our leadership and community volunteers who served throughout COVID-19,” Bible said. “During the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, S.C. Empowerment Centre has distributed over 2.5 million pounds of food along with 49,290 summer meals through various anti-hunger initiatives, which has been recognized by Hunger Free America based in New York.
“The main anti-hunger initiative that many residents may know of would be our free mobile food pantries throughout Laurens County. If you have not been in one of those lines, you may have gotten caught in traffic during one of them. Yet, S.C. Empowerment Centre did not receive ARP allocations even though we NEVER closed during COVID because SCEC and community volunteers were busy feeding our local community. SCEC asked for allocations for funding to replace equipment and additional equipment needed to keep serving our community through these initiatives.”
Others such as the Laurens Memorial Home for the Aged received a boon to its finances. The Memorial Home came close to shuttering during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The $250,000 in ARPA funds it requested and received is making an impact there.
“In the Memorial Home’s 163-year history, this will be the most money it has ever had,” said Rutledge Jacks, chairman of the home’s board of directors. “Our board deeply appreciates the county council and our community recognizing the significant role tht the Memorial Home serves in the lives of so many of our fellow citizens. Our community support has always been vital in maintaining our expenses that are not covered by Medicaid; and that support will continue to be necessary. But these Covid relief funds will make it possible for much needed updating and upgrading of our facilities.”
The United Way of Laurens County was the last name called and received $62,000 of its $250,000 request.
“We appreciate the money that we did get because I really thought the way it was going we weren’t going to get any and we were the last to be called,” said United Way Executive Director Alesia Carter. “But because of the huge impact that United Way does in Laurens County and all the people that we touch I was disappointed that we did not get at least a larger portion of the amount we requested because it was going to multiple programs and initiatives.
“Especially since COVID our workplace campaign has dropped drastically and so we’ve had to cut funding for programs. We currently provide funding for nine agencies: the Safe Home of Laurens County, both Laurens and Clinton YMCAs, Beyond Abuse, Laurens County Cancer Association, Piedmont Agency on Aging, S.C. Empowerment Centre, the Salvation Army and United Ministries.”
Janette Marvin, founder of the Dental Share Network of Laurens County which provides free dental care to uninsured adult residents, said the $60,000 her organization requested and received is making a difference for people in need.
“We are very grateful for the help that Dental Share Network has received through the ARPA grant as we move forward helping the citizens of Laurens County,” Marvin said. “The funds were thoughtfully distributed and will make a big difference for our county.’
Five organizations requested money for infrastructure projects. Laurens CPW received $600,000 of the $2.3 million it requested. The LCWSC requested about $1.34 million for three separate projects and received $1.3 million, and Presbyterian College received all but $1,000 for a $601,000 high-speed internet improvement project.
The City of Laurens had requested $700,000 and Laurens CPW just over $2.3 million to update several early and mid-20th century sewer mains still serving Laurens.
“I would first like to thank County Council for what was I’m sure a very difficult process to decide where to send these funds,” said Parker Moore, chairman of Laurens CPW. “The CPW’s project was to rehabilitate several sections of sewer mains that were from 70-100 years old and in very poor shape. The total cost of this project will be well over $3 million dollars. The $600,000 pledge from the county will definitely help toward this project. I would also like to congratulate Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission and Presbyterian College for receiving $1.3 million and $600,000 respectively for their projects.”
With the most recent dispersement of funds complete, council must decide what to do with more than $6 million of the $13 million it received in the federal government’s COVID-19 relief act.
Patterson said council members are considering recommendations from staff on where that money can be spent.
“There have been some recommendations from staff but no decisions have been made by council,” Patterson said. “We’re evaluating all of our needs to better determine the best use of those funds.”