Overhaul debate up for SC jobless benefits agency

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina lawmakers are scheduled to debate a proposed overhaul of the troubled Employment Security Commission.

The Senate plans to take up legislation Wednesday that moves control of the agency to Gov. Mark Sanford's cabinet.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee that's been working on an overhaul also discussed its plans to reshape the agency.

The House plan would also make the ESC a cabinet agency, renaming it the Department of Workforce.

Legislators and the governor would have greater oversight over the department under the House plan, with the director being subject to annual performance reviews by the General Assembly. The governor would also have the power to fire the director.

The House also aims to reduce severance pay, in addition to eliminating benefits for temp agency workers who don't show up for work or employees fired for gross misconduct. The measure also eliminates employer-filed claims.

Calls for change have grown for months as more issues have come to light.

A Legislative Audit Council review found the agency hadn't done enough to keep its jobless benefits trust fund from going broke and had stopped reporting fraud.

Last week, a report from the state auditor said the agency lacked accounting skills and hadn't given IRS and state Revenue Department income taxes collected from jobless workers.

U.S. Department of Labor Regional Director Dianna Milhollin defended the ESC, saying that like most other state unemployment agencies in the country, the ESC "had considerable difficulty in programming and properly reporting for the stimulus funding received."

Milhollin said the Department of Labor "has received nothing but cooperation" from the ESC.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.