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SC Senate approves $45 million emergency funding bill for DHEC to fight virus

The $45 million would be split for various items to assist DHEC's fight against coronavirus

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Senate voted 42-0 to approve an emergency $45 million spending bill for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The additional spending, urged by Governor Henry McMaster, would be split among a variety of DHEC departments to try to stem the tide of coronavirus in the state.

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“The $45 million amount may be deducted from the $128 million one-time taxpayer credit contained in the FY 2020-21 General Appropriations Act passed by the House of Representatives. This credit would not be available to state taxpayers until they file their taxes in 2021. At this time, I believe these one-time surplus dollars should be utilized now to provide DHEC with funds, to the extent necessary, to address COVID-19 in South Carolina," McMaster wrote last week.

However, Senators said Tuesday the money would come from the state's unused contingency funds, which total more than $340 million currently.

Here's how the $45 million would be distributed, according to DHEC:

  • Nearly $15 million for staffing to support disease and contact surveillance, lab testing, and phone lines
  • Nearly $15 million for additional medical equipment
  • More than $5 million for staff support, which DHEC says would be for technology, lab supplies, and cleaning
  • $2.5 million for public information campaign on TV and radio
  • $1.7 million for patient quarantines
  • $1.3 million for transportation of lab samples and supplies from the national stockpile
  • $5 million in contingency funds 

Before Tuesday's afternoon session, the Senate Finance Committee met to iron out the details.

The bill now includes amendments to give DHEC more control to move hospital supplies around and raises limitations on salaries for retired DHEC employees to come back and work for the Department.

The bill will get a routine third reading tomorrow, and then head to the South Carolina House. Earlier this week, the House announced it would come back on Thursday at 1pm, cutting their furlough week short.

After the vote, a bipartisan pair of senators said they wanted to act urgently.

"It's critical to the people of South Carolina we pass it. That's the reason we're here. And that's the reason we put it in a priority position and gave it second and third reading immediately on successive days. So that DHEC could have additional funds," said Senator Nikki Setzler, (D) Lexington.

"Those folks are telling us they're going to need more money. To hire additional staff, to buy more equipment, we're listening to that, we're responding to that, to make sure they have the resources they need to protect South Carolinians," added Senator Shane Massey, (R) Edgefield.

The two senators said it was important to continue to talk to the gathered reporters and public at large to allay concerns about the virus and show they're still working.

"We're going to get through this, if the Senate needs to be in session in order to deal with things, we're going to be in session," Massey said.

However, the duo said the Senate would likely take action to start following public health official recommendations on appropriate spacing and protections for senators dealing with individual medical concerns.

The Senate also went a step closer to a continuing resolution on the budget. The continuing resolution would allow the state to use last year's budget funding into the new fiscal year if a new budget isn't approved before July 1st. 

The idea of a continuing resolution sparked fierce debate among the senators, with some arguing it sent the wrong message the Senate was giving up on governing due to the virus. Others argued it was a necessary measure to ensure the state's government doesn't shut down if a budget can't be reached, due to restrictions on movement or meeting because of the virus.

The continuing resolution bill was given a second reading without a vote, meaning it would need a third reading and vote at a later date. 

Massey and Setzler repeatedly said they wanted to assure the public the Senate would continue working.

What is the Coronavirus? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as pneumonia. DHEC is working with CDC to identify all those who might have been in contact with these individuals. These people will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.

People can help to prevent the spread of the virus in the following ways:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. And, always wash your hands with soap and water if they are visibly dirty.
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • stay home when you’re sick.
  • cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue and put it in the trash immediately.
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • get the influenza vaccine.

For general questions about COVID-19 residents should visit the DHEC website at scdhec.gov/COVID19 or the CDC website here.

For residents concerned about their own personal health or are showing symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, please call your personal doctor or healthcare provider. DHEC has launched its Care Line. If residents have general questions about COVID-19, the DHEC Care Line is here to help. Call 1-855-472-3432. Staff are answering calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call volume has been high. Callers are urged to be patient if they receive a busy signal and try their call at a later time.