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S. Carolina to end federal pandemic-related unemployment programs

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster blamed federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits for the worker shortage his state is currently experiencing. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Boffen/U.S. National Guard/Flickr
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster blamed federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits for the worker shortage his state is currently experiencing. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Boffen/U.S. National Guard/Flickr

May 6 (UPI) -- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday ordered all of the state's federal pandemic-related unemployment programs to be terminated, citing them as responsible for the state's labor shortage.

In a letter to Department of Employment and Workforce Director Daniel Ellzey, the Republican governor called for the state to stop participating in the programs effective June 30, stating they pose "a clear and present danger" to the health of the state's businesses and economy.

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"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 work place," 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.

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South Carolina is the second state to cut federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance after Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday that his state would pull out from the programs effective June 27 due to a lack of workers.

According to South Carolina's Department of Employment and Workforce, the unemployment rate for March was 5.1%, lower than the national unemployment rate of 6%.

However, Ellzey said there are currently more than 81,600 job openings in South Carolina, with employee shortages in the hotel and food service industry threatening their sustainability.

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"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," Ellzey said in a statement.

South Carolina was participating in six federally funded programs that were made available through to Labor Day under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into effect in March.

Among the programs being terminated 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 to those who have exhausted their benefits.

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While Montana is offering a return-to-work bonus of $1,200 to those who gain employment and keep their jobs for at least four weeks, McMaster made no such offer to his residents.

"Following termination of participation in these federal programs, DEW shall return to normal operation of the state's unemployment insurance program, including enforcing the requirement that claimants demonstrative active efforts to seek employment in order to remain eligible for benefits," McMaster wrote to Ellzey.

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 its possible and to just arbitrarily do this as if it's a 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.

Rep. 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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January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

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