COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There are more than 180,000 South Carolinians out of work due to COVID-19.
Last week, the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) saw its highest number of claims yet at 85,018. That’s more than 20,000 than the week before.
DEW said it’s increased it’s call center staff by 400% in the past two weeks to respond to people’s questions. However, some people who are without work due to the virus said their claims have been denied. That’s the situation for Autumn Herbert, who was laid off from her job as a server three weeks ago.
"They said I didn’t make enough money to file for regular unemployment, but I was under the impression that we weren’t filing for regular unemployment. I thought we were filing for unemployment specifically for COVID-19 relief," Herbert explained.
DEW said it’s still required to follow standard requirements for approving benefits, even though this is not a typical situation. However, those who have been denied could receive help through the federal government’s new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA).
"What we’re asking for those individuals that may have been ineligible under Unemployment Insurance (UI) is please be patient with us as we make those changes; however, we will reach out to you and determine which changes or information is needed from you or which step is needed to move from one program into another," said DEW Director Jamie Suber.
Suber said by applying and getting denied, you are at least in their system. If you’re self-employed, a contractor, or a gig worker, you can now file a claim. DEW will take the claim, but the program to pay you is not active yet. Once it is, if you are approved, you will be paid retroactively.
“I can guarantee our requests are in and we’re looking every day to ensure that those funds are being provided by the Department of Labor so we can draw those funds down," Suber explained.
However, Suber said DEW still has not received an update as to when those funds will be available.
“I’ve been out of work for over a month soon and who can live without backup plans for a whole month? I know we’re supposed to save money and we’re supposed to have a little nest egg for emergencies, but when you already live paycheck to paycheck that’s impossible to do," said Herbert.
Wednesday, Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order, which allows furloughed workers who are receiving support payments from their employers to still qualify for unemployment benefits. Previously, furloughed employees who received payments did not qualify for unemployment.
DEW said it’s paid almost $18.5 million in unemployment benefits since March 15. Over the weekend, the ICON Hub that validates social security numbers nationwide added server support to better accommodate the number of claims. DEW said most individuals who are receiving benefits as a result of an Employer Filed Claim are receiving payments as quickly as 24 hours after their weekly certification.