South Carolina homeowners who are struggling to make it are about to get some help to stave off foreclosure.

Federal funds totaling $2.5 million are set to pour into a nonprofit network that provides free foreclosure counseling to financially strapped residents.

The grant money, awarded to the S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority and North Charleston nonprofit Family Services Inc., will pay for counseling until the end of the year.

Family Services, the state's main foreclosure counseling provider, is currently working with about 780 families statewide. Many of the borrowers who are behind on mortgage payments have either lost work or aren't making enough money in their current jobs, said Debbie Kidd, who oversees foreclosure counseling for Family Services.

The agency's 11 counselors help homeowners ask their banks for lower monthly mortgage payments through what's called a loan modification. People who receive professional counseling are 60 percent more likely to avoid foreclosure, according to Washington-based nonprofit NeighborWorks America.

"The need for nonprofit housing counseling has never been greater," Valarie Williams, executive director of the state housing agency, said in a statement.

The latest round of grant applications marked the first time that the state's housing authority applied for the money.

Agency officials sat out three earlier round of grant awards worth $355 million because a staffer misunderstood the application process, an oversight first reported by The Post and Courier.

They later committed to applying for subsequent rounds of money.

South Carolina was awarded the fourth highest amount in the country, while Family Services got the highest amount of any nonprofit.

"I think they just recognized there was a great need here still," housing authority spokesman Clayton Ingram said.

The state agency also could get up to $138 million in federal money to pay for housing rescue programs through a U.S. Treasury program designed to funnel money towards states with the highest unemployment rates. South Carolina's rate hit 12.2 percent during March, the sixth highest in the country.

Proposals for the program, which was announced last month, are due later this summer.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.