CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina self-employed workers can face longer wait times to get unemployment benefits because the system used to process claims wasn’t set up for them.
Brent Phillips is the Unemployment Insurance Operations Director for the state’s Department of Workforce and Employment.
“The ones I think are stretching out are the ones that are coming into our system which the system wasn’t built for, which are the self-employed, the Uber drivers," Phillips said. “That may take a little while, because you have to file for the normal unemployment, and then you have to file for different parts of the CARES Act."
Phillips added that the state’s self-employed and gig workers were not eligible for unemployment benefits until Congress passed the CARES Act in late March. After that, the state then needed access to the federal funding it provided to pay those workers, and that happened in April.
“So, there was a period of time from when they had filed their original claim before they were able to file for these additional benefits," he said. “We do know there is a sense of urgency to work through as many as we can as quickly as we can, and to make sure those who filed previously get handled as quickly as possible, particularly the ones who filed in March who may not have been eligible because of the certain programs, and through the availability of the CARES Act, now they are.”
In two months, more than 480,000 South Carolina workers have filed for unemployment, reaching historic highs for the agency.
“We opened up our services to people who normally don’t file for unemployment from the self-employed to the gig worker, so there’s people utilizing our system which it wasn’t necessarily built for," Phillips said. “So, we’ve had to adjust to that."
He added that every claim has to go through processes, like integrity checks and employer confirmations, and this can sometimes slow down the process.
“I do realize there is some frustration, and that’s to be expected with the volume we do have. But, I do want to reassure people, we will get to your claim and your issue and ensure that people who are due benefits do receive them," Phillips said.
The agency has now paid more than $1 billion in a combination of state and federal benefits since mid-March. They also have added more than 450 customer service representatives in that same time.
Last week, those representatives answered almost 100,000 calls.
The agency is maintaining extended call center hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.