Major changes are in store for the South Carolina state agency responsible for writing unemployment checks. Governor Mark Sanford will sign a measure tomorrow morning removing the commission's top leaders and placing the entire agency under his own control.
Governor Sanford has long complained about the three appointed commissioners who manage the Employment Security Commission. He says they're unresponsive and ineffective. But state lawmakers didn't really join the fight until January when a legislative audit revealed millions of dollars had been wasted.
"We've not at this point in time found any money to be missing, but we've found cases where people that should have been disqualified were paid - you know for drug use, for stealing, for not going out to actively look for jobs," says State Senator Greg Ryberg. The audit found commissioners were lax in granting unemployment, and that's part of the reason the state has borrowed more than $800 million from the federal government to cover jobless benefits.
South Carolina is one of at least two dozen states in debt to the federal government for unemployment money. North Carolina owes more than $2 billion. Still, South Carolina lawmakers voted unanimously to replace the state's three Employment Security Commissioners with a panel that will hear appeals from businesses or employees in unemployment issues. The agency's executive director will be nominated by the legislature and serve on the Governor's cabinet.
Employment Security Commission spokesman Clark Newsom says the changes aren't exactly welcome, but "you know, it's the desire of the legislature." "They have made their decision and, you know, we will move forward and work very closely with the governor and his staff during this transition so we can make it as smooth as we possibly can," says Newsom. "And first and foremost so we can continue to serve the citizens of South Carolina with their employment and unemployment needs."
Many of the changes take effect as soon as Governor Sanford signs the measure tomorrow. Next, lawmakers are hatching a plan to pay off the state's debt to the federal government by raising unemployment taxes on companies that lay off lots of workers. The most lay-off prone companies could see their taxes almost triple, while taxes for employers that rarely cut jobs could drop to zero.