Public service for local soldier

Matthew J. Taylor

COLUMBIA -- Help is on the way in the form of more than $295 million for as many as 33,000 South Carolina homeowners facing foreclosure.

SC HELP, the state's foreclosure prevention program administered by the State Housing Finance and Development Authority, announced Monday that it has received an infusion of cash to help struggling homeowners who were not previously eligible.

South Carolina received the money from U.S. Treasury Department's Hardest Hit Fund, because its unemployment rate of 11.1 percent is among the highest in the country. Now, in addition to the unemployed, South Carolina homeowners can also qualify if they are underemployed or self-employed, such as those who have had a significant reduction in hours at work or less business.

Matt Rivers, administrator of the S.C. Homeownership and Employment Lending Program, said SC HELP can be a bridge to enable people stay in their home if they have a temporary gap in employment or income.

The program can provide cash toward monthly payments while the homeowner looks for work and aid to bring loans current and erase fees and penalties. Transitional assistance for short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure can be provided for those too far into the foreclosure process.

The program has no household income limit, but caps are placed on the amount of assistance a homeowner can receive.

David Geer, executive director of Family Services in North Charleston, said the State Housing Finance and Development Authority has made proactive changes to the program to make sure the help gets to the right people when they need it.

Admitting a need for help is the first step, he said.

"Sometimes it's difficult to say to a counselor, 'I don't have a job. I need assistance. Can you help me?' " Geer said. "People we help want to work. They have worked most of their lives."

The cash the U.S. Treasury provided for foreclosure prevention comes from money bankers paid back from the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP, as it is known, is the federal government's plan to block an economic crash by providing resources for financial institutions to continue lending money.

Also on Monday, U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn announced that the U.S. Department of Labor has designated a $20 million grant to help train South Carolina workers.

The grant will go to Florence-Darlington Technical College to be implemented by a consortium of community colleges and industry partners.

Clyburn said the money will go toward retraining workers in growing fields.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her at twitter.com/yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog at postandcourier.com/blogs.