Defunct program to be revived?

March 9, 2017

Inside Insight

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Here comes the pork.

On Wednesday we learned from the policy team at the South Carolina Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization) that budget-writers in the House have resuscitated the Competitive Grants program. That program, you may remember, was relentlessly derided by Gov. Mark Sanford as the legislature’s “slush fund.”

We don’t endorse that sobriquet, but it’s certainly true, as the Policy Council notes, that the grant allocations “often looked indistinguishable from old-fashioned pork”; and so the legislature finally discontinued the program in 2009. It was meant, of course, to provide small grants for community projects – baseball diamonds, public parks, local training programs, and so on. But those sorts of well-meaning programs tend to turn into something else – fast.

That put us in mind of a 2010 story by our former colleague Rick Brundrett about a company called Welvista, a Columbia-based firm that provides mail-order prescriptions to people who don’t have Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance but who qualify as low-income. The meds are donated to Welvista by large pharma companies.

Sounds great, and for all we know Welvista is a terrific company. In Brundrett’s story, though, we learned that the company received nearly $1.5 million in mostly state dollars in fiscal 2008-2009. “Of the total, $400,000 was designated as ‘pass-through’ funds to the organization, which typically are inserted into the budget by lawmakers; while another $500,000 was awarded to the organization through a competitive grants program authorized by a state budget proviso, records show.”

Huh. So in 2008-2009 the competitive grants program sent half a million dollars to a lobbyist principal that was already getting $400,000 through another channel. Look for more of the same if lawmakers are successful in revving it back up in 2017.

Read the Policy Council’s update here, and Brundrett’s story about Welvista here.