Dems say Gov. Nikki Haley has declared war on rural SC

02/05/2013 1:16 PM

02/05/2013 3:31 PM

S.C. Democratic leaders said Tuesday that Gov. Nikki Haley has declared war on the rural poor parts in the state by cutting off face-to-face unemployment claims help at 17 offices.

“These are the most vulnerable of counties,” Minority House Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said outside the governor's office.

Forcing people, who might not have a car or gas money, to drive to offices in nearby counties will lower the number of people filing jobless claims, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said. That could lower the unemployment rate -- a potential boon for Haley, a first-term Republican, he said.

“It’s clear the governor is running for re-election,” Hutto said.

Just before the Democrats spoke, Haley told reporters staffing was reduced as claims and federal funding have dropped.

“It’s a good thing when you downsize government,” she said.

After the Democrats aired their complaints, Haley's spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said: "Gov. Haley has a war on unemployment. ... Gov. Haley measures success by how many South Carolinians have jobs, not by how many unemployment offices we have." The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce said Monday it will consolidate claims work at 17 offices beginning Feb. 19. The offices will continue giving other services, such as assistance with job searches.

The changes affect about 6,000 of the 60,000 South Carolinians receiving any type of assistance from the agency. People must apply for claims in person or via the Internet. They can confirm weekly benefits over the phone.

The agency has laid off 130 employees since October.

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