S.C. sees 400% increase in jobless claims over Coronavirus

S.C. sees 400% increase in jobless claims over Coronavirus
The department has instructed its vendors to increase its system capacity as much as possible and redirected some of its staff to operate in customer service roles after some people may have experienced challenges applying for unemployment insurance benefits. (Source: WECT)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce has reported a 400 percent increase in unemployment claims filed this week in response to jobs lost because of the coronavirus, according to data released on the department’s twitter account Thursday.

On Wednesday alone, SCDEW reported an influx of 4,000 calls.

We assure you we are working as diligently as possible to meet your needs,” an SCDEW statement on twitter stated. “With such an unprecedented event at play, we are asking for your patience as we continue to address any frustrations. We are here to help and we will get through this together.”

The department has instructed its vendors to increase its system capacity as much as possible and redirected some of its staff to operate in customer service roles after some people may have experienced challenges applying for unemployment insurance benefits.

Many of those seeking unemployment were working in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's ordered that all restaurants, bars and cafeterias statewide stop all dine-in activity.

McMaster said he made the decision after conversations with people including the director of the South Carolina Restaurant Association.

“We know a lot of these things are going to cause problems for businesses, but the enemy we face is this virus which is bigger than any sort of irritation or inconvenience that any of us could have," McMaster said.

He also prohibited organized events of 50 or more people held in the state.

The latest statistics from SCDEW show a state economy that’s been flipped on its head within a matter of days. The department’s executive director called this an “unprecedented time.”

“Employment and Workforce is working in real time with federal and state officials to create solutions and support for individuals and businesses. As we continue to work with these partners, we have collected common questions and challenges that the South Carolina workforce is facing in this uncommon time,” SCDEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey said. “We are having ongoing conversations with business associations, business leaders and individual employers on their needs and how we can assist them.”

The announcements about a spike in unemployement claims follow an SCDEW report released on Monday that touted “record levels of low unemployment” in January 2020.

“More jobs are available than people to fill them – that’s the reality as we look back at the growth from 2019 and look at the numbers of January 2020. South Carolina continues charting record levels of low unemployment while more people are earning paychecks than ever before," Ellzey stated in a press release.

His very next sentence foreshadowed the challenge the Coronavirus could create for thousands of workers and businesses across South Carolina.

“It could certainly have an impact on the unemployment rate, job searches by applicants, hours worked, etc. At Employment and Workforce, we are preparing for this possibility and to ensure the safety of our own employees and the continuity of our services," Ellzey said. “However, just as we have done in the past several years when South Carolina has been challenged with an exceptional event, our agency remains poised and ready to assist individuals find or retain employment as well as help employers with their workforce needs...Our agency is built on the premise of helping people and businesses overcome employment challenges and, should we need them, we will provide additional tools and resources as required."

One of those tools is a hub, rolled out Wednesday, to directly address unemployment concerns related to the Coronavirus in SC.

“For individuals whose employment has been affected by COVID-19 – due to illness, a school or daycare closing or caring for a family member with a COVID-related illness – sick leave or paid time off through their employer would be the appropriate resource for this time away from work. If a person is out of work due to a business closing, layoff or reduction in hours related to COVID-19, those individuals should file for unemployment insurance benefits,” a Wednesday press release stated. “Moreover, there may be additional sources of funding for workers and businesses in the federal house bill HR 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If you are uncertain about your eligibility, you are encouraged to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.”

Some employers can also file claims on their workers’ behalf if they’ve experienced temporary shutdown, slow or smaller workloads, or have temporary or seasonal work.

Employers can file up to six weeks for their affected employees, and employees are exempt from work search requirements through these types of claims.

“To file for your workers, you must contact DEW’s Unemployment Insurance department and sign an agreement letter in order to become authorized to file your employees’ claims. You are required to report any earnings the employee may have received from you or any other employer during the particular week filed. You also must submit an electronic file to our department each week you wish to file by clicking here. The claim must be submitted after the week of layoff is over but within 14 days of the claim week ending date,” SCDEW’s website stated.

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