The federal government will set aside millions to help the victims of Hurricane Florence recover. That isn’t in doubt.

The bigger question is this: Will those dollars actually help the people hurt by the flood?

Before Florence even arrived, we reported some of the problems with the government’s response to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Nearly two years after the storm, most of the $130 million earmarked for disaster recovery in Horry and Marion counties — about 90 percent — hadn’t been spent. That funding has a shelf life, too, meaning that if it isn’t used in a timely fashion it goes back to the government.

Other than creating news releases for politicians, there is no benefit in setting aside money for flood victims if those dollars don’t reach their intended target.

So what’s the hold up?

Part of the problem is the design of the program. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but it is funneled through a state agency called the Disaster Recovery Office.

Created after the great flood of 2015, this is the Palmetto State’s way of managing those federal dollars for long-term disaster recovery. 

Technically, this money can be used for infrastructure and economic development projects, as well as renovating and replacing storm-damaged housing. But former Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration opted to focus those resources exclusively on housing for low income residents. 

County officials insist this approach hasn’t been effective for local folks.

Not only is the process moving at a lethargic pace, spending all of that money on low income housing ignores infrastructure and economic development, projects that could transform communities such as Bucksport or Marion County.

Horry and Marion officials met with Gov. Henry McMaster in August and urged him to change the strategy for spending the Hurricane Matthew money.

We agree that changes are needed, and as federal officials craft a recovery program for Hurricane Florence, it’s even more important that they learn from their past mistakes.

The next program should have fewer restrictions, particularly on income limits, so more flood victims can get the help they need. 

And the money should do more than repair or replace homes. 

Bucksport has infrastructure needs, including some dam projects that local officials believe would make the area more resilient for when the next flood arrives.  

However, the greatest change federal and state leaders could make would be sending that money directly to Horry County rather than routing it through a fledgling bureaucracy in Columbia.

The county handles tens of millions of dollars in federal grants each year and local officials best understand the needs of the community.

They are also more accountable. County officials have to live and work here. They answer to the citizens each day.

If Horry County is to fully recover from Florence, state and federal officials must eliminate some of the bureaucratic red tape and focus on legitimate, locally-led solutions that do not just repair homes but transform communities.

In disaster recovery, there’s no such thing as a 10 percent success rate. In any honest assessment, that’s a 90 percent failure rate and that’s unacceptable. 

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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