COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As this COVID-19 pandemic continues, thousands of people throughout South Carolina are without work. But now -- those who were laid off due to the virus can receive up to six weeks pay without having to apply for other jobs.
Normally, to maintain eligibility for unemployment benefits, individuals must conduct two job searches each week, but given the effects of COVID-19 on the workforce, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) is temporarily waiving this requirement.
Thursday afternoon, Gov. Henry McMaster also issued an executive order to waive the waiting week for South Carolinians seeking unemployment benefits between March 15 and April 18. This means, if a person qualifies for unemployment due to COVID-19, they can expect to receive benefits one week faster.
But that still doesn't mean applying for those benefits will be an easy process.
Just this week, DEW officials said they’ve seen a 400% increase in the number of claims filed. And on Wednesday, they received more than 4,000 calls.
“This is truly uncharted and unprecedented times,” DEW Interim Chief Administration Officer, Jamie Suber, said.
Nursing student and waitress, Autumn Herbert, is one of thousands of people out of a job.
She says she spent four hours Wednesday trying to get through to DEW to file a claim, but didn’t have any luck.
“I went online to make my profile, and it wouldn’t even let me through,” she said. “It kept giving me error messages and telling me to call tech support, so I called in and I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. The automated message said ‘all call representatives are unavailable at this time.’”
She was laid off from her job as a waitress at Miyo’s in Harbinson on Tuesday, after McMaster ordered all bars and restaurants to close dine-in services.
“I still have a mortgage payment. We have a car payment,” she said. “One of the biggest things to me is how I’m going to pay mine and my daughter’s health insurance because everyone needs health insurance right now. Our bill is over $300 a month, and I don’t even have $100 to my name right now.”
DEW officials say their team is working through a backlog of calls, but say the best way to file a claim is online.
They’re asking those without work to be patient and know they’re working as hard as they can to get through the thousands of claims. DEW said it’s also working to make sure all tech problems are solved.
Officials encourage all employers who had to temporarily close up shop due to COVID-19 to file an employer claim through DEW to help make the process easier and faster for employees who were let go.
“That will speed the process up by allowing us to control that number,” Suber explained. “And it allows for a timely response from the employer, which allows for us to make a determination very, very quickly.”
In order to process all of the claims coming in, DEW says it’s considering adding weekend or extended hours for its employees.
The department has also added a tax extension for employers to help alleviate any burden on owners whose business has slowed or been temporarily shut down due to COVID-19. All businesses must still submit a wage report by April 30, but they now have until June 1 to pay first-quarter contributions.