Unemployment benefits agency open Saturday

By Jillian Capobianco - bio | email

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) — South Carolina's unemployment benefits agency is opening its doors after normal weekday hours so people who had lost their benefits for nearly two months can get some help.

The state Department of Employment and Workforce says its 36 offices across the state were open from 8:00am to noon Saturday to help process claims restored under a new law.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a $34 billion measure that restores unemployment benefits to people who have been out of work for six months or more. It ends a seven-week interruption that caused 2.5 million people nationwide to lose benefits averaging about $300 a week.

"It's nerve-racking, you feel downgraded," said Pam Neese, who is no stranger to the Employment and Workforce office in Columbia.
She has been out of work for quite some time, but has gone without an unemployment check for the past seven weeks. "When you realize you don't have income coming in unless you are fortunate to have family, friends that can help you, it just emotionally tears you down and stresses you out," said Neese.

Now that Congress passed the unemployment benefits extension, Pam is back in line.

Some may have expected the lines at workforce centers to be long. But by 10:30am, there were no lines at all. Charleston Area Director Jim Coles says that could be a sign people didn't wait until Saturday to file. "For a lot of folks, unemployment is their livelihood," said Coles. "The agency had been telling them to keep filing."

Coles says there was a rush of about 70 people at 8:00am, but then the line that usually forms disappeared. "These are folks that did not file for the extension or they let their extension lapse," said Coles.

But not everyone is happy about the extension. "The debt right now is what needs to be paid for," said Columbia Tea Party leader Allen Olsen. "We can't keep giving out these programs without it being paid for."

Olsen says he sympathizes with people like Pam, but believes leftover stimulus funds should have paid for the benefits. "I understand the economy right now, it is necessary in some people's views, and I could go either way with it, but it should have been paid for," he said.

Neese is one of those people who says it's necessary. "Unless it happened to you, you really don't know what its like," she said. "You really don't understand and your heart's not there."

Those who filed on Saturday can expect to see a check within a month. "Probably about two to four weeks depending on what their situation is," added Coles.

Those who forgot to file on Saturday aren't out of luck. "Come into the office, our regular hours are 8:30am to 5pm," he said. "We will go ahead and take care of you."

South Carolina's jobless rate dropped to 10.7 percent in June, the seventh-worst jobless rate in the nation.

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