SC DEW: When CARES Act benefits arrive, more people can get help

SC DEW: When CARES Act benefits arrive, more people can get help

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - While Congress has passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which aims to help workers and businesses suffering due to COVID-19, South Carolina and other states are still waiting to find out when that money will hit their state systems.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) said right now it is still required to follow standard practices for unemployment. That means to qualify for benefits, you must be willing and able to work.

DEW officials said if you have been furloughed or laid off due to COVID-19, you are able and willing to work, so you should qualify for benefits.

That being said, if you can’t work because you are in quarantine or have to stay home to care for a child due to schools being closed -- then you are technically not willing and able to work. This will likely result in your application being denied, and self-employed individuals will also likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits through the state.

Winnsboro resident, Paul Keller, said he was tested for COVID-19 on March 20 and ordered by his doctor to self-quarantine for 14 days. He said he tried to apply for unemployment benefits, but he was denied.

“It said I was denied because of the questions able and willing to work, so I uploaded my doctor’s note for the quarantine for 14 days to show I’m able to work, I’m willing to work, but I can’t because the doctor has me quarantined," Keller explained.

Last Sunday, Keller said he found out his COVID-19 test came back negative, but he said his doctor required him to isolate for 14 days, regardless of his test results.

DEW said Keller could receive benefits once South Carolina receives money from the CARES Act. That act is much more inclusive as to which individuals qualify for financial help. They expect some people who were initially denied for the state’s unemployment benefits will be eligible for CARES Act funds.

DEW officials said it is waiting on guidance from the Department of Labor, but they are still encouraging people who are unsure of whether or not they will qualify for unemployment benefits to submit an application. Once the CARES Act funds hit the state, you will already be in the system and they said this should speed up the process for you receiving benefits.

DEW will also have to work with the Department of Labor to set up a newly-created program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program will be for contract or self-employed workers who need unemployment benefits.

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The maximum amount of unemployment benefits you can receive a week in South Carolina is $326, but once the CARES Act funds are available, those who qualify should see an extra $600 per week through the end of July.

DEW is still experiencing issues with its TelClaim number. The phone line has been down since 1:30 p.m. Friday, so DEW is unable to take new calls.

The department said it understands everyone’s frustration and calls the situation unacceptable, but officials want South Carolinians to know they are working with their vendor to resolve the problem.

DEW said it paid out $10 million in unemployment benefits from March 29 through April 2.

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