The South Carolina General Assembly reconvened for the 2021 legislative session on January 12th with many carryover budget items from the 2020 session. Included in the start of the session, the Ways and Means Committee set their tentative budget schedule for the FY21-22 budget. The state will continue to operate under the Continuing Resolution with some agencies receiving immediate funds to provide the necessary services during the pandemic. Those agencies impacted that have presented to their budget subcommittees are requesting additional funds for several COVID-19 related items including vaccines, assistance with administering the vaccines and safety equipment.
To summarize a few of the large topics coming across the General Assembly’s desks this year all touch on response to the health pandemic in some fashion. Below is a summary of the start of the session in these areas.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved a Joint Resolution to provide more than $200 million from contingency funds for COVID-19 vaccinations. Funds, shared between DHEC and MUSC total more than $100 million, with the remainder to be allocated to hospitals and other providers to administer vaccines across the state.
COVID-19 Liability Protections
The Governor is pushing for COVID-19 liability protections for businesses acting in good faith to follow public health guidelines. Many business associations and organizations across the state are pushing for these protections to help businesses remain operational. Both the Senate and the House have now pre-filed or introduced bills (S.147 and H.3597).
A Senate Judiciary Subcommittee met to discuss COVID-19 liability in late January and will continue to do so moving forward.
In addition to the $50 million invested in broadband in 2020, McMaster has proposed $30 million for expansion. The current environment may not be able to accommodate the full request but this is a symbol that broadband expansion is a priority for the General Assembly.
Workforce Development and Education
Governor McMaster announced he is allocating just shy of $20 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund for education and workforce training. These are funds that were previously assigned to state governors via the CARES Act to support agencies that have a role in education and have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds, per the announcement, will be allocated with:
- $8 million to the South Carolina Technical College System for workforce training for 3,100 adults in such career areas as: Healthcare, Computer Technology and Information Technology, Advanced Manufacturing, Distribution and Logistics, and Criminal Justice and Corrections.
- $7 million to early childhood education
- $4.9 million to address the educational needs of foster care children and youth in group homes.
The Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved H.3609 to transfer $50 million from the Contingency Reserve Fund to the Executive Budget Office allocating these dollars to districts to restore teacher step increases that were suspended in 2020.
Further proposed budget allocations include $176 million for capital improvement projects at colleges and universities, $80 million need-based scholarships/grants at public and private colleges and universities, and $5.6 million to put a full-time nurse in every school district across the state.
The Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) announced it has paid more than $10 million in the first found of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits. Starting with the week ending January 2, 2021, those eligible to receive at least $1 of unemployment will also receive an additional $300 on top of their weekly benefit amount.
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