Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- COVID-19 put thousands out of work in South Carolina.
The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce is seeing record numbers of people seeking unemployment benefits.
In fact, so many people tried to access the online system to file a claim Wednesday night, it caused delays on the agency's website.
"It's been crazy. It's been hectic. We're still trying to get our arms wrapped around our response," said Jamie Suber, Chief Administrative Officer for the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.
To file a claim to get unemployment benefits, you go through the SC Department of Employment and Workforce.
You can file online or over the phone at the moment because the agency's building is shut down for social distancing purposes.
As of Wednesday, the agency says claims are up 400% compared to the same time last week. On Wednesday alone, they answered 4,000 calls.
"Yesterday was a very challenging day," said Suber. "I don't have the full understanding of how many and how much usage was in our systems, however we did have challenges associated with individuals accessing our system."
Suber says the website should be running smoothly now. They've instructed their vendors to increase the system's capacity, which means more people can visit the website at any time and file a claim successfully.
The employment benefit system was recently modernized, he added, and it's available 24/7.
"We can help them file a claim, get information that may be pertinent to the filing, and we want to do all we can to make sure they get payment quickly if those individuals are deemed eligible," said Suber.
Here's how COVID-19 is changing the unemployment claim filing process:
- Normally, to stay eligible for unemployment benefits, a person is required to look for a job twice a week. That requirement was suspended
- The agency is also looking to get money to those eligible *quicker* by removing what's called "the waiting week"
- The tax deadline for employers is now June 1, but wage reports are still due by April 30
"The approval period for unemployment benefits has been expedited. Those that are entitled to receive them can receive them about a week quicker at a minimum and we are working to reduce that," said South Carolina Governor, Henry McMaster, in a press conference Thursday.
The maximum weekly benefit amount in South Carolina is $326 before taxes.
"Normally I think what we've experienced in South Carolina over the last three or four years were more disaster-related and DUA-related claims," said Suber. "This is not any federal assistance as far as DUA, so we're trying to get creative with the unemployment program and ask for liberty in regards with how we can help speed up that process and get benefits to those individuals that need it during these critical times."
For more information on the claim filing process, visit sc.dew.gov. When you get to the home page, click "MyBenefits Login" to register, and you can file a claim from there.
You can also call the agency's call center at 866-831-1724. The call center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Suber tells News 19 they're looking into extended hours and possibly weekend hours for their staff to keep up with the high volume of callers.
"We care about the well-being of individuals across the state of South Carolina and we're doing all we can to ensure this process is one they can get through very, very easily."