Tue, 22 Jun 2021

COLUMBIA, South Carolina - In a bid to end the state's labor shortage, Governor Henry McMaster has ordered all state federal pandemic-related unemployment programs to be ended.

McMaster said the federal aid checks are responsible for the state's labor shortage.

In a letter to the Department of Employment and Workforce Director, McMaster called for ending federal benefits on June 30, saying they pose "a clear and present danger" to the health of the state's businesses and economy.

"What was intended to be 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," he said.

"Since the Biden administration and Congress appear to have little to no comprehension of the damage being done and no appetite to terminate the federal payments, the state of South Carolina must take action," he added.

South Carolina is the second state to cut federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte earlier announced that his state would withdraw from the programs on June 27 due to a lack of workers to fill available positions.

As of the last report by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, unemployment in March was 5.1 percent, which was lower than the national unemployment rate of 6 percent.

State officials note that there are currently more than 81,600 job openings in South Carolina. Industries hard hit by the inability to find staff include the hotel and foodservice industry.

"While the federal funds supported our unemployed workers during the peak of COVID-19, we fully agree that re-employment is the best recovery plan for South Carolinians and the economic health of the state," state officials said in a statement.

Among the programs South Carolina is ending include the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program that issued $300 weekly supplemental payments and the Pandemic Extended Unemployment Insurance that extended unemployment assistance beyond the normal 13 weeks.

In Montana, the state has offered a return-to-work bonus of $1,200 to workers who keep their jobs for at least four weeks. South Carolina is offering no similar program.

Sue Berkowitz, director fo the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which is a social, economic and legal justice advocacy group, told The State she was disappointed with the move.

"Most people do want to go to work if it is possible and to just arbitrarily do this as if it's punishment is just the wrong message to send to hardworking South Carolinians who are trying to do the best they can and should not be treated like they're children or they're cattle. They just may have reasons they cannot go back to work right now," she said.

Meanwhile, Representative Nancy Mace, R-S.C., tweeted her thanks to McMaster for terminating the programs and "leading our state and our businesses back on track!"

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