Connie Munn is Gov. Henry McMaster's choice to lead the state's Department on Aging. Adam Benson/Staff 

COLUMBIA — The deputy director of the S.C. Department on Aging is a step closer to taking the agency's helm after a Senate panel endorsed her Wednesday for the job assisting the state's growing senior population.

Connie Munn, a former mental health counselor, still needs confirmation by the full Senate. But members of the Family and Veterans’ Services Committee said they believe she’ll bring stability to a department that has been embroiled in controversy.

The unanimous vote came a year after senators rejected Gov. Henry McMaster's first pick.

"I know Connie Munn and I know her family, and the wealth of diversity she has in this field speaks for itself," said state Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter. 

McMaster chose Munn, 58, of Sumter, to lead the $53 million department in November, replacing his longtime friend Stephen Morris.

A full vote by the Senate could come as soon as next week. 

The agency's services, such as caregiver support and home-delivered meals, help the state's aging residents live independently — a priority for officials since the senior population is estimated to double by 2030 to 1.8 million people. More than a third of seniors get by on Social Security alone, sometimes earning as little as $710 a month.

"We need to be able to have a system in place that provides our seniors where they can age in place and live independently at home," Munn said.

McMaster initially tapped Morris in December 2018 to head the department, but the Senate overwhelmingly rejected him. During his confirmation hearing last spring, state Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, said employees alleged he made derogatory remarks toward women and minorities and sided with white male supervisors in disputes.

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Morris denied the charges, but the Senate voted against him 41-2. Days later, McMaster told Morris he could keep the $109,460 a year job until his successor was found and confirmed.

Munn's salary will be determined by the Agency Head Salary Commission. Prior to joining the agency as deputy director in November, Munn spent nearly six years as health and human services director at the Santee-Lynches Council of Governments in Sumter. She served as the council's Area Agency on Aging director from 1987 through 1995. 

The 40-employee Department on Aging had been under the lieutenant governor’s control since 2004 but became a Cabinet agency in 2019, reporting to the governor, after the state switched to a joint gubernatorial ticket.

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.