South Carolina Disaster Relief and Resilience Act

In September 2020, the South Carolina legislature passed the Disaster Relief and Resilience Act ("the act," S.B. 259, codified at S.C. Code Ann. §§ 48-62-10, 48-62-310, 6-29-510(D)) to increase the state's resilience to natural disaster and flooding events. The act establishes the position of Chief Resilience Officer and the South Carolina Office of Resilience to coordinate disaster recovery and resilience efforts within the state, creates the Disaster Relief and Resilience Reserve Fund to finance disaster recovery efforts and hazard mitigation projects, and creates the Resilience Revolving Fund to provide low-interest loans to local governments to perform floodplain buyouts and restoration. 

First, the act establishes the South Carolina Office of Resilience, which is governed by the Chief Resilience Officer (S.C. Code Ann. § 48-62-20). The Office of Resilience is tasked with developing, implementing, and maintaining a Strategic Statewide Resilience and Risk Reduction Plan and with coordinating cross-agency efforts to increase resilience and recover from natural disasters. This plan will guide South Carolina's future investments in flood mitigation projects and new policies to protect people and property from the impacts of severe weather events. The Strategic Statewide Resilience and Risk Reduction Plan must include the following components (S.C. Code Ann. 1976 § 48-62-30): 

  • Descriptions of the state’s known flood risks; 
  • Information about past and potential future losses associated with disaster events;
  • Land management practices that increase the impact of extreme weather events; 
  • Recommendations for actions to decrease the state’s vulnerabilities to flooding and related adverse impacts; 
  • An estimate of the number of residential properties that could be eligible for floodplain buyouts and an estimate of the cost; 
  • A strategy for funding and supporting local flood risk reduction activities; 
  • Plans to integrate risk reduction best practices into relevant existing state strategies; and 
  • Opportunities for citizen stakeholders to provide input. 

Second, the act creates the Disaster Relief and Resilience Reserve Fund to provide disaster relief assistance and hazard mitigation funding to South Carolina's communities (S.C. Code Ann. §§ 48-62-50, 48-62-60). The Disaster Relief and Resilience Reserve Fund can provide aid to communities with "significant unmet needs” after a federally declared disaster event. Funds may be used for immediate disaster relief and resilient rebuilding efforts. Further, the act requires that any actions funded account for future flood risks and hazard exposure to ensure that post-disaster rebuilding mitigates exposure to future hazards and potential losses. 

The following activities are eligible for funding under the Disaster Relief and Resilience Reserve Fund (S.C. Code Ann. § 48-62-70):

  • Floodplain buyouts, resident relocation, and buyout assistance for single- and multi-family units not eligible under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
  • Supplemental funding for buyouts to relocate residents outside of the floodplain and restore a floodplain’s flood-mitigation functions; 
  • Support for low- and moderate-income households for projects to lower flood risk; 
  • Loans and grants to local governments to support hazard mitigation efforts; and 
  • Mitigation projects included in local governments' post-disaster recovery plans. 

The state can make funds from the Disaster Relief and Resilience Fund available to local governments and communities through loans and/or a competitive grant process. The act provides that projects identified in the Statewide Resilience Plan or in local hazard mitigation plans will receive funding priority, along with projects that provide enhanced protection from future flood events and/or incorporate nature-based solutions. Additionally, projects must be in compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program and any more stringent requirements set by local governments. Further, funds cannot support projects that would increase flooding in nearby areas. 

Third, the act establishes the South Carolina Resilience Revolving Fund to provide low-interest loans and grants to local governments to perform floodplain buyouts and restoration projects (S.C. Code Ann. § 48-62-320). 

Eligible projects include buyouts of properties experiencing repetitive flood loss, buyouts of properties experiencing repetitive flood loss with land designated for floodplain restoration, and floodplain restoration on bought-out lands (for buyouts funded by other funding sources). The act prioritizes buyouts of multiple or clusters of properties, rather than buyouts of individual, scattered properties, and caps the funding of individual home buyouts at $500,000 per home. The act also prioritizes the use of the fund to support voluntary buyouts and relocations for low- to moderate-income households.1  

The act requires the state to provide a portion of each loan as a grant that local governments do not have to repay. Specifically, the state can choose to make between 5-25 percent of each loan available as a grant. The flexible grant amount is intended to be used as a financial incentive to encourage local governments to incorporate one or more "beneficial flood mitigation practices" into their proposed projects.2 As envisioned, local governments will be eligible for more grant money if they incorporate more beneficial flood mitigation practices. State agencies, local governments, and land trusts can apply to the Resilience Revolving Fund. 

Fourth and finally, the act requires local comprehensive plans to include a resilience element (S.C. Code Ann. § 6-29-510(D)). The resilience element must assess the effects of flooding and natural hazards on the safety, health, and welfare of the community. To implement the resilience element, local agencies should coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions affected by the projects included in the local comprehensive plan.

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

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