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South Carolina News

South Carolina Ends $300 A Week In Extra Unemployment Benefits

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South Carolina workers on unemployment will see a drop in benefits this week as the state ends the extra $300 a week in unemployment assistance from the federal government.

The extra $300 in federal benefits could have continued through September, but South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster decided to opt out of the program early. He's ending the extra payments beginning the week of June 27, as well other pandemic programs that allowed people to remain on unemployment for an extra 53 weeks beyond the initial 20-week period. The benefits also gave extra $100 weekly payments to workers who lost jobs but also earned some self-employed income.

In making the announcement in May, McMaster said he believed the extra pandemic benefits were disincentiving people from returning to work, just as many restaurants, retailers, and other businesses struggle to find workers.

"In many instances, these payments are greater than the worker's previous paychecks," McMaster said in a statement. "What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace."

As of June 19, there were 88,124 people receiving unemployment benefits through South Carolina's Department of Employment and Workforce. The state's unemployment rate in May was 4.6%, compared with the national unemployment rate of 5.5%.

Some business leaders have shown support for the governor's move. Bobby Williams, chairman of South Carolina's Restaurant and Lodging Association, said he believed the move was necessary, while acknowledging it could place some unemployed workers in a bind.

"I know there's some people out there that still are going to need some help, and hopefully there will be something special out there for them," he told WFAE in a May interview, "but we have got to get the workforce back and engaged again."

Some other business leaders have shown more skepticism, including Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, who said he wasn't convinced that the extra payments were fully to blame for the worker shortage.

"I think there are some people who have not gone back into the workforce because they're getting some of those extra federal unemployment dollars," Knapp said, "but do I think that's the major issue of why we have a workforce shortage? No. I think there are too many other good explanations."

Knapp said many people decided to leave the service industry during the pandemic in search of more skilled labor jobs. Those people may be uninterested or unable to return to their old jobs. He also said he fears the state is passing up federal dollars that were feeding into the local economy.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, meantime, has given no indication that he plans to opt out of the federal unemployment programs early. Lawmakers in the North Carolina Senate have passed a bill that would give bonuses ranging from $800 to $1,500 to unemployed workers who get a job this summer, but the measure has not yet been voted on in the state House.

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