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SC unemployment benefit fund could go into debt by December, SCDEW tells House

SCDEW said the unemployment trust fund may run out of money in December, leading to a loan from the federal government

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Wednesday the South Carolina House COVID-19 Employment, Workforce and Business Recovery Committee met to discuss the impact of coronavirus on South Carolina’s public health and workforce.

In a roughly two hour meeting, House lawmakers heard updates from DHEC, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Employment and Workforce.

DHEC said in the month of June they conducted 171,675 tests and were seeing an increase in cases.

Brannon Traxler also had a warning for young people putting themselves and others at risk.

“This really is something-- this is a chance for the young adults and teenagers to step up and be leaders. Be the generation that shows that they can wear masks and it is cool to do. They can still live their lives, but they just need to do it from that six-foot distance as the Chairman said and while wearing masks to decrease the risk,” Traxler said.

DHEC also announced new guidance for businesses dealing with employees returning to work either exposed to coronavirus, tested positive, and four other scenarios.

The guidance is available on DHEC’s website.

The Department of Employment and Workforce said since the pandemic began, about 25 percent of South Carolina's workforce has used the unemployment system, about 618,000 claims.

Now, Director Dan Ellzey said new claims each week are about double what they were in the economic recession of 2009.

“And it does not look like we're going to get any relief from it any time soon. Cause I can tell you, the official numbers come out tomorrow, we can't mention them until then. They're not great, we are in a decrease at least, it's not going back up, but they're certainly not great,” Ellzey said.

Ellzey said they also were seeing sometimes 239,000 calls per week, and now had 651 call center employees. 500 of those employees have been trained for more complex scenarios and questions, according to Ellzey.

SCDEW said they're paying about $40 million a week in state funds and could run out of money by December in the worst-case scenario. More optimistic scenarios had SCDEW staying out of debt, but still significant declines in the trust fund amount available.

Ellzey told the committee call center hold averages also went from more than four hours, to about 24 minutes.

He also announced the extended benefits program began Wednesday, which offers up to 10 weeks of benefits to individuals whose regular benefit year ended on or after June 14, 2020. Other restrictions apply to the extended benefits.

Currently, the SCDEW unemployment trust fund balance is around $685 million, according to Wednesday's testimony. Last month, lawmakers voted to use $500 million in CARES Act funding to replenish the trust fund.

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