State housing officials have told the U.S. Treasury Department how they want to spend $138 million that's marked for financially struggling South Carolina homeowners.

The S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority turned in a grant application Tuesday, proposing programs to help borrowers pay their mortgage, in most cases, after a job loss.

The state's unemployment rate has topped double digits for nearly 18 months.

The proposal would provide money for homeowners who can't find work or have taken jobs at lower salaries.

"It'll work to give relief during transition periods for people who are seeking new employment," said agency spokesman Clayton Ingram.

"We're hoping there are some provisions in there that will allow for a clean start for other people now that they're stable again."

Nearly 60 percent of home- owners enrolled in federal foreclosure counseling fell behind on payments after they lost their job or saw a drop in income, according to NeighborWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that oversees federally financed foreclosure counseling.

Treasury officials have 90 days to review South Carolina's plan. Once it's approved, state officials have 120 days to get the program up and running, but it's not expected to take that long.

At the earliest, South Carolina homeowners could see the federal money put toward their mortgages this fall. It's likely that homeowners will have to apply for the money, which would be given directly to their lender.

The agency hasn't released a copy of its proposal yet, but Ingram said it looks similar to what several other states have given to U.S. Treasury officials, who are administering a pool of federal money aimed to stabilize housing markets in the most economically depressed states.

The Obama administration created the so-called Hardest Hit fund in February, designating up to $1.5 billion for "innovative measures to help families," according to a Treasury press release.

So far, officials have made a portion of that money available to 10 states based on certain economic measures like unemployment.

Half the states have turned in grant applications. Most proposals agree to give grants to individual homeowners, as long as lenders agree also to take a hit.

Arizona housing officials, for example, propose putting up to $50,000 toward a homeowner's mortgage as long as their lender agrees to match the relief amount.

Florida's housing agency, which could qualify for $418 million, floated a proposal that would pay up to nine months of a homeowner's mortgage if a lender also agrees to forgive nine months of payments.

Michigan housing officials estimate that their proposal could help 16,000 residents with their $154.5 million allotment.

One of the state's proposals would provide up to $10,000 for homeowners to help them qualify for refinancing.

Another proposal would put up to $5,000 toward wiping out a homeowner's accrued mortgage debt through a program that targets property owners who were out of work but have since found a job.

The Florida agency also wants to use the money to pay for legal assistance for homeowners who already have begun the foreclosure process.

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