Waccamaw EOC utility help is back in business (with link to audit)

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council is now able to again provide assistance with weatherization and utility bills for residents in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

The services for new clients were halted last month when the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity tightened funding requirements after problems were found in an audit.

Those restrictions were lifted Friday after the state reviewed the Waccamaw EOC's corrective action plan to address allegations that included improper election procedures for board members and inadequately tracking grievances said Louise Cooper, with the state's Office of Economic Opportunity.

The state has responded to the corrective action plan and its comments will be reviewed tonight during the Waccamaw EOC's board meeting at 7 p.m. at its administrative office, 1261 U.S. 501 East, Suite B, Conway.

"We want to make sure the people get the services they need while we work through the corrective action plan," Cooper said, about the reason for lifting the restrictions.

The state placed the Waccamaw EOC on "reimbursement status" around March 26, said executive director Beth Fryar, with the Waccamaw EOC.

The reimbursement status meant the Waccamaw EOC had to provide aid first and then seek reimbursement from the state, Fryar said.

The agency, strapped for cash, was unable to front the money and stopped serving clients in those programs. The state provides about $7.5 million a year in grants for community services such as utility bill assistance, job training and weatherization programs. The program serves more than 8,000 people a year.

Fryar said the agency paid for existing clients but was unable to help new people seeking aid.

"We did not have funds to assist clients with," she said. "We did not just turn them away, we placed them on our waiting lists so we could help them when funds became available."

She said she did not have figures for how many people were placed on the waiting lists during the restrictive period.

The audit performed by the state and released March 26 found numerous areas of concern with Waccamaw EOC, including missing data. Other concerns were allegations that EOC board members used their positions for personal gain; improper election procedures to board positions and lack of proper racial, economic and geographical representation on the board and its commissions.

At the Waccamaw EOC's April 6 meeting, the board agreed to put in place new policies and training on the chain of command at the EOC; changes in the way board members are elected and a hearing for uninvestigated employee grievances.

The board also agreed to a reconstitution of the board after the 2010 census data is known so that it will accurately reflect the population of the three counties it serves.