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Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council set to temporarily reopen

The Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council will be allowed to temporarily reopen its services to residents of Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties starting Monday, according to a decision released Thursday by the S.C. Office of Economic Opportunity.

The Waccamaw EOC, which offers low income assistance for various services including weatherization and help with utility bills, was placed on state reimbursement less than two weeks ago, meaning the agency had to get all of its expenditures approved through the state. The federally-funded organization had to shut down most of its services because it did not have the money to pay employees. The appeals process for the agency to receive grant funding again would likely have taken several months, according to the state office.

The state decision comes as a heat wave has battered the Grand Strand most of this week. Many of the agency's clients request assistance with utility bills and a letter for the S.C. Office of Economic Opportunity to the Waccamaw EOC said that concern for residents' health and safety is the only reason a temporary lift on the reimbursement status is being allowed.

"In consideration of the [clients'] needs for service and in light of the temperatures for the area exceeding 100 degrees, and based upon OEO's determination that the clients are in potentially unsafe circumstances as a result of the Agency's inability to properly and adequately administer the programs of OEO, we must lift the reimbursement basis solely to ensure the clients of the service area are served," wrote Louise Cooper, director of the state economic opportunity office.

Beth Fryar, director of the Waccamaw EOC, and Zach Grate, the president of the EOC board of directors, were not available for comment Thursday evening.

The move to sanction the organization came after several board members refused to comply with requests from a state auditor to see e-mails and other documents. State lawmakers got involved, calling for the board of directors to resign. The state OEO cited the agency as a high risk for funding because of board non-compliance, potential conflicts of interest, improper election procedures and improper contact between board members and program staff.

Cooper said the agency will be held accountable and expected to take action to fix what she said was mismanagement of the agency. She said the EOC still will be monitored and if progress isn't made, could still face closure.

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