Jobless benefits to end for 29,000 SC residents

11/27/2012 5:54 PM

11/27/2012 11:06 PM

About 29,000 South Carolinians -- including about 2,100 in Horry and Georgetown counties -- will stop receiving jobless benefits at year's end as federally funded extensions expire, the state's unemployment agency reported Tuesday.

Payments to anyone in that federal program will stop by Jan. 3, as per a phase-out approved by Congress in February. It affects about 1,701 residents in Horry County and 403 in Georgetown County, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

That means a loss of $6.2 million weekly to unemployed South Carolinians, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

In South Carolina, the average payment is $239 weekly. The maximum is $326.

Anyone filing for unemployment insurance after Dec. 29 will be eligible only for the maximum 20 weeks of state-governed benefits paid by employers.

When the year started, unemployed South Carolinians qualified for up to 78 weeks of payments – or 19 1 / 2 months – thanks to two different federally paid extension programs. One of those, for states with chronically high unemployment, expired in April after the jobless rate dropped below 9 percent.

Congress voted in February to phase out the other program, which will shave off 42 weeks. Those emergency benefits were initially approved by Congress in 2008 and later expanded.

For most in the program's waning weeks, those payments will end by Dec. 31, though some will receive benefits as late as Jan. 2, said agency spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell.

She could not immediately provide a breakdown on how many weeks the 26,200 otherwise would have remaining.

The counties with the most residents losing benefits are Richland (2,508), Greenville (2,285), Charleston (1,852), Horry and Spartanburg (1,570). Payments are also ending for 1,755 former residents who left the state after becoming unemployed.

This week, 42,000 people are receiving unemployment payments, Fairwell said.

Losing the two federal extension programs caused the agency to cut back too.

Last month, the unemployment agency laid off 55 people. It plans to cut an additional 81 jobs by June. Officials aim to make those cuts through attrition. About 1,100 currently work for the agency, which operates off federal funds.

South Carolina's unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in October. It hadn't been that low since November 2008. In the interim, it stayed above 10 percent for 32 months, peaking at 12 percent in November and December of 2009.

Last year, legislators cut the maximum number of state-governed benefits from 26 weeks to 20. At the time, that reduced the total number from 99 to 78 weeks when including the federally paid extensions.

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