COLUMBIA – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen is alleging that Gov. Nikki Haley and the state Department of Social Services are misleading the public in touting the number of people moving from welfare to jobs.
But DSS officials said 24,000 people in welfare programs have received jobs during Haley's tenure, and a spokesman for Haley countered that Sheheen prefers "having people stay on welfare."
Sheheen also alleged Wednesday that private vendors who have donated to the Haley campaign have been paid $12.5 million in recent years to help find jobs for those on welfare, but that their efforts have resulted in fewer jobs than the agency found without vendor help in prior years.
"Nikki Haley's claims regarding jobs and benefits to work aren't true," he said.
Karama Bailey, acting deputy state director for DSS who oversees the work programs, said 24,000 people have gotten welfare-to-work jobs since February 2011.
"In actuality, we have taken steps to ensure that the numbers are unduplicated," she said. "So the numbers that you have represent a job that a person got."
The case has to be closed before the agency counts the job, she said.
And if a person loses a job and gets another, the person isn't counted twice, she said. She said, however, that some of those might not have full-time jobs.
Those being helped in the welfare program are asked to put in 30 hours of work and work readiness activities. The activities include interviewing skills, resume building or short-term, on-the-job training, depending on the applicant, she said.
She said about 17,000 of the 24,000 are welfare recipients whose cases were closed because of the employment they received. She said the agency doesn't track the number of food stamp recipients who have been moved into full-time jobs.
Haley has said 20,000 people have moved from welfare to work under her administration and cited the statistic in a recent re-election ad about the program.
Sheheen's campaign has previously criticized the statistic as false, and the senator on Wednesday said he has spoken to some DSS workers who have told him the truth isn't being told.
Sheheen said some of the jobs claimed by Haley aren't full-time and the pay is so low they still qualify for government benefits.
Sheheen also pointed to a letter from former DSS Director Lillian Koller in December 2012 to senators in which she said DSS didn't check to see if those whose cases are closed due to employment have kept their jobs and aren't drawing unemployment.
Koller resigned from the agency this summer following criticism from some legislators over the agency's handling of child abuse and neglect cases.
Koller also told senators, Sheheen said, that most of those who find jobs and are moved off welfare rolls are still eligible for food stamp benefits for at least a month after their welfare cases are closed. That's because the income allowance for a family of three under welfare, Koller wrote, is $795 a month, while the income threshold under food stamps is $2,069.
Sheheen said private firms have been paid by DSS since 2012 to help with finding jobs but "by DSS's own standards, the program appeared to be doing well before the companies came aboard."
Bailey said the agency decided to hire private vendors because the caseloads were too large for case managers.
"These vendors were able to come in and work with people and get them jobs, often when they are in the applicant phase," she said. "That left our case managers in the county offices able to do some intensive case management with those who were harder to place."
She said the number of jobs found under the vendor system hasn't matched the previous system because the economy improved and people came off the welfare rolls. So there were fewer people on the rolls searching for jobs, she said.
Bailey said the hiring of the vendors was done using state procurement law and no favoritism was shown.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Haley, said the governor has always believed that the best way to take care of families is to provide them opportunities for work.
"The governor knows that working is one of the keys to the American dream," he said, "and she couldn't be more thrilled that this program has moved over 20,000 South Carolinians from welfare to work."