SC House wants rural unemployment offices kept open

abeam@thestate.comMarch 12, 2013 

S.C. House lawmakers moved Monday to keep unemployment claims offices open in 17 rural counties.

Lawmakers voted to rearrange the Department of Employment and Workforce’s budget on the first day of debate on the state’s proposed $22.7 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The department’s budget included a $4.5 million increase for “administration.” However, lawmakers voted to move $1.5 million of that money to unemployment offices. Today, lawmakers will debate an amendment that would direct the department to keep the rural unemployment offices open.

“If we cut down on the employment workforce offices, those are the people who are actually putting people back to work, helping people with their resumes, helping match up unemployed people with employers,” said state Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, co-chairman of the legislative Rural Caucus. “That’s exactly the wrong move to be making.”

The Department of Employment and Workforce announced recently it was cutting staff in 17 county offices, eliminating in-person unemployment claims help. The department said the changes would affect 6,000 of the 60,000 South Carolinians who received assistance from the agency.

The department is a cabinet agency that reports to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, and Democrats criticized Haley for the closing decision, saying she had “declared a war on the poor.”

Since then, however, Major Gen. Abraham Turner, the department’s executive director, has resigned. And if Monday’s is any indication, House lawmakers are eager to restore staffing at the 17 offices.

State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, House budget chairman, said he supports the proposal.

“If the funds are available, you’re just shifting money within the agency, so you’re not adding any to it,” White said. “You’re just telling them what to do with what they have.”

The governor’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the House action.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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