HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — A new bill to increase funding for rural police departments across South Carolina is in the works.

Congressman Tom Rice is working with Senator Lindsey Graham to push forward a bill that would support rural departments to increase officer’s pay and hire additional officers.

Rural law enforcement agencies that pay below 80% of the national median household income would qualify for additional funding through this bill.

Congressman Rice said counties like Florence, Horry, and Georgetown are among others in the district that meet the criteria.

“In Florence, the police chief told me they were down 20 officers. In Chesterfield County and others, they are having problems recruiting, particularly the rural areas that don’t have a big tax base,” Rice said.

Recruitment and retention are beginning to serve as obstacles in rural areas across the Pee Dee region.

“This public backlash, it’s one more thing they have to put up with, and people don’t want to go into it,” Rice said.

That’s one of the initiatives driving Congressman Rice to work with Senator Graham to push forward this bill. It’s a state-level incentive, Rice says, that would modify the existing federal ‘COPS’ (Community Oriented Policing Services) program.

The COPS program pays a match for an agency to add more officers.

“The match is too much for some of these smaller more rural areas. When I was chairman of the county council in Horry, we did a few officers that way, but the max was even too much for Horry county to go too far with it,” Rice said.

“Those who want to invest more in the community count me in. But the number one investment that you should make at the state local and federal level is security,” Graham said.

Senator Graham spoke in Myrtle Beach on Friday and emphasized community safety depends on law enforcement support.

The bill proposes hundreds of millions of dollars to focus on rural law enforcement.

“I think it will help them hire more police officers, pay them competitive pay, and hold onto them longer,” Rice said.

Law enforcement agencies said this would help hiring, retention, and the ability to offer competitive pay. The bill would apply any rural police department in South Carolina that meets the income criteria.

Congressman Rice says he hopes to see progress on the bill after the election before the end of this year.