In announcing recently that 686 nonprofit organizations in South Carolina would receive a total of $25 million in federal coronavirus-relief grants, state officials said the recipients received a “successful due diligence review” by a legislatively created panel.

A state Department of Administration (SCDOA) spokeswoman told The Nerve last week in a written response that priority was given to organizations that provided services in one or more of the following categories:

  • Food assistance, including prepared meals;
  • Rent or mortgage assistance;
  • Utilities assistance;
  • Mental health counseling;
  • Health care services;
  • Criminal domestic violence and children’s advocacy services;
  • Arts and cultural items or activities.

But in a review of the grant recipient list provided by the SCDOA, The Nerve found selected organizations whose primary missions aren’t aimed at assisting South Carolinians get food, pay their utility bills or receive medical services, or helping criminal domestic violence and child abuse victims.

The recipients included, for example, the following private fundraising arms of three public technical colleges, with awarded grant amounts in parentheses: Denmark Technical College Foundation ($2,500), Greenville Tech Foundation ($50,000), and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Foundation ($50,000).

In contrast, at its Dec. 10 meeting, a grant review panel made up representatives from seven state agencies (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, Archives and History, Arts Commission, Consumer Affairs, Mental Health, Social Services, and State Housing Finance and Development Authority) denied a request by an unidentified nonprofit that provides “grants to students at Coastal Carolina University,” according to meeting minutes.

“Did not provide prioritized services,” the minutes noted. “Harm due to Covid-19 was not being able to hold fundraisers.”

In a written response Thursday to The Nerve, SCDOA spokeswoman Kelly Coakley said the Denmark Technical, Greenville Tech and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College foundations reported that they provided food, rent, utilities or health care “services” or “assistance,” though she didn’t respond to The Nerve’s follow-up request for more specifics.

Representatives of the three foundations didn’t respond this week to The Nerve’s written requests for comment.

Rejected applications

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) grants to nonprofits ranged from $2,500 to $50,000 under an assistance program that state lawmakers established in September in allocating the remaining approximately $700 million of $1.9 billion in awarded federal relief funding to South Carolina.

Nonprofits submitted a total of 1,590 applications requesting a collective $75.9 million, SCDOA spokeswoman Megan Moore said in a written response last week to The Nerve. That meant that 904 applications, or more than half of the total, were rejected.

“In many cases, the documentation an applicant provided did not support the requested amount,” Moore said.

The grant review panel at its Dec. 10 meeting denied at least four applications identified only as “Entity is affiliated with a State Agency,” records show. Moore denied The Nerve’s request for the identities of those organizations, contending that it “would not be appropriate to release this information until we have had the opportunity to notify all applicants who will not be receiving a grant award.”

The CARES grants are supposed to be used for “reimbursement of qualifying expenditures” incurred between last March 1 and Dec. 1, according to information on the SCDOA’s website. That includes expenses related to responding to the “COVID-19 public health emergency” and any resulting “lost revenue.”

To have been eligible for a grant, applicants must be designated nonprofits with the Internal Revenue Service, lawfully operating in South Carolina, and be in operation from at least Sept. 13, 2019. Priority was supposed to have been given to groups that hadn’t already received forgivable federal loans issued through the emergency Paycheck Protection Program, or other federal coronavirus-relief funding, according to published guidelines.

Moore told The Nerve that the state law passed in September required nonprofit grant applicants to submit documentation to support their requests. The grant review panel and a separate panel that evaluated minority and small business grant applications were assisted by the international consulting firm Guidehouse, and the SCDOA, Department of Revenue or Secretary of State’s Office, according to records.

Under a state law passed in June, lawmakers approved $10 million in CARES funds for the Virginia-based Guidehouse. State comptroller general records show that the SCDOA so far this fiscal year, which started July 1, has paid Guidehouse at least $2.3 million.

Other grant winners

The Nerve’s review of CARES grants awarded to nonprofits found that of the 686 recipients, 203 will each receive the maximum $50,000, with another 179 to receive $49,788 each.

The recipients include the following two Columbia-based nonprofits that don’t provide food, rent or utility assistance or medical services to South Carolinians as part of their primary mission:

  • IT-oLogy, which is “working to grow the number of IT professionals in South Carolina,” according to its website. It was awarded a $50,000 grant; the organization’s revenues in fiscal 2019 totaled $463,517, according to its federal income-tax return.
  • The South Carolina Foundation for Educational Leadership, which was formed to support the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, according to an online description. It was awarded a $49,788 grant; the organization’s revenues in fiscal 2020 totaled $306,738, according to its federal income-tax return.

In her email response Thursday, SCDOA spokeswoman Coakley said IT-oLogy reported that the organization provides “arts and cultural items or activities,” though she didn’t elaborate. Tammy Mainwaring, the organization’s president, didn’t respond Thursday to a written request for comment.

As for the Foundation for Educational Leadership, Elizabeth Phibbs, who is the Association of School Administrators’ executive director and is listed in federal tax records as the foundation’s principal officer, told The Nerve in an email response Thursday that the foundation applied for a grant under the “other” category for types of services provided, as listed on its application, though she didn’t elaborate.

The Nerve’s review also found that three Charleston-based nonprofits that have received significant public funding in recent years were awarded CARES grants of either $50,000 or $49,788, including:

  • The South Carolina Aquarium, which had $14.6 million in total revenues in 2019, including $1.5 million from the state, according to its federal income-tax return;
  • Spoleto Festival USA, which for fiscal 2019 had total revenues of $7.8 million, including $372,206 in government grants, according to its federal income-tax return; and
  • The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, which had $2.9 million in total revenues in fiscal 2020. Its “gold” sponsors include the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, according to its website.

 Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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