McMaster directs SC to return to pre-COVID unemployment program

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina will leave the federal unemployment programs providing extra money to jobless residents in light of “unprecedented” workforce shortages across the state, Gov. Henry McMaster announced on Thursday.

The state will opt out of the coronavirus pandemic assistance programs beginning June 30. The federal benefits include an extra weekly $300 to unemployed workers that was scheduled to run through early September.

The labor shortage has affected all areas of the state’s economy, state government officials said, with the hotel and food service industries especially hard-hit. McMaster claimed the shortage was created in large part due to the supplemental federal payments.

“In many instances, these payments are greater than the worker’s previous pay checks,” 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 at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace.”

Earlier this week, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said the state also would be leaving the federal unemployment program.

South Carolina’s workforce agency cited Montana’s decision in a memo to McMaster and estimated that over 10 weeks, jobless workers in the state would lose out on a total of $585.3 million in additional federal benefits.

At the Dixie Pig in Rock Hill, owner Curtis Heinz told Channel 9 he’s one of the lucky restaurant owners. Most of his staff has been with him since the eatery opened six years ago, but for the few positions they do need to fill, he said it’s been a struggle.

“We’ve had nobody apply,” Heinz said. “I have one application over there in that application bin -- that’s it!”

This sign at the Zaxby’s in Fort Mill asks for patience as they deal with changing hours because of staffing.

Restaurant owners told Channel 9 that they expect a hiring frenzy once the federal assistance ends in June.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce has sought to get people back into jobs, repeatedly advertising more than 80,000 job postings available via an online state portal.

As of March, the state reported a 5.1% unemployment rate, compared to a national rate of 6%. Just 2,856 people filed initial unemployment claims last week, according to DEW. More than 108,000 people received an average weekly benefit of $230.04 as of last week.

“While the federal funds supported our unemployed workers during the peak of COVID-19, we fully agree that reemployment is the best recovery plan for South Carolinians and the economic health of the state,” DEW Director Dan Ellzey said in a statement. “Last week’s initial claims numbers were the lowest since the pandemic began, and employers around the state are eager to hire and anxious to get South Carolina back to business.”

In April, the workforce agency began requiring people to conduct twice-weekly job searches in order to receive jobless benefits. The department had previously suspended the work search requirement because of the pandemic.

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