U.S. Congressman Tom Rice said he was researching the impact being felt by residents in South Carolina, whose extended unemployment benefits expired last year, before saying whether he supports reinstating them.
“I’m not staking out a hard position on that one,” he said in an interview with The Sun News.
The U.S. Senate voted 60-37 Tuesday to clear an initial hurdle for a bill that would renew jobless benefits.
For Congress to renew the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, the bill would have to clear the 60 vote threshold again before it can pass the Senate, and the House of Representatives would have to approve it as well.
Rice, R-Horry County, said he was researching the impact on the Seventh District and would weigh the findings before making a stance.
About 12,900 S.C. residents lost their federal unemployment benefits when the program expired on Dec. 28, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
Those jobless exhausted their 20 weeks of state unemployment benefits and are in one of the three tiers receiving up to 29 additional weeks from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
“But there are other safety nets available,” he said, citing welfare and food stamps as help available for those who are unemployed. “Obviously the best thing we can do is grow the economy and get people back to work. … I’m very concerned about meeting people’s needs.
“But this was a temporary program created in 2008,” he said. “And it’s been amended 11 times.”
As drafted, the new unemployment bill would restore between 14 weeks and 47 weeks of benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were affected when the program expired Dec. 28. Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.
At issue was a complicated system that provides as much as 47 weeks of federally-funded benefits, which begin after state benefits, usually 26 weeks in duration, are exhausted.
The first tier of additional benefits is 14 weeks and generally available to all who have used up their state benefits.
An additional 14 weeks is available to the unemployed in states where unemployment is 6 percent or higher. Nine more weeks of benefits are available in states with joblessness of 7 percent or higher. In states where unemployment is 9 percent or higher, another 10 weeks of benefits are available.
In November, the state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate declined significantly to 7.1 percent from the October rate of 7.5 percent, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.