Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Sanford said they are not likely to correct problems at the state's jobless agency when lawmakers return for a short session next week.
Sanford organized a more than two-hour discussion of the S.C. unemployment system Tuesday, which highlighted the complex tax codes, benefit structure and other issues that will play a role in replenishing the state's bankrupt jobless benefits trust fund.
South Carolina has taken on more than $560 million in federal loans to maintain unemployment benefits. Those loans could be repaid through higher business taxes, reduced benefits or some combination.
Lawmakers will return to Columbia Oct. 27 with plans to quickly approve a change in state law that would reinstate access to extended federal unemployment benefits for about 7,000 jobless. Sanford started the meeting pushing lawmakers to quickly approve a bill making the agency part of his cabinet when they return, but backed off by the end of the session.
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"That's not realistic," Sanford said. "It's going to be a longer issue that's not resolved in a day or two days." He said the loans should not be repaid solely by raising taxes.
Among the issues raised by unemployment experts, the S.C. Department of Commerce and lawmakers:
- South Carolina allows companies to file benefits for planned, short-term layoffs. Some question whether businesses who pay into the unemployment fund are subsidizing paid time off for those employees.
- S.C. benefits are more generous than other states'. In addition, the state may be paying benefits to workers who were fired for cause, such as drug users or those who stole.
- S.C. unemployment tax rates may not be properly set to dissuade companies from laying off workers or to reward those companies that do not.
John Stephen with Boston-based Lucas Group said S.C. workers are staying on unemployment longer, on average 13 weeks, up from 11 weeks in the 1990s. The state, he said, can streamline services to help the unemployed find work sooner.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said a Senate committee will begin working on a bill in November. The issue, he said, is among the most important lawmakers will consider when they return to Columbia in January.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said the discussion was not agenda-driven and praised Sanford for organizing the meeting. Bingham said the House may tap some of the experts who spoke at the meeting for their advice.
Bingham agreed the issue would have to wait until at least January.