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SC residents desperate for unemployment benefits after more than a month without a paycheck

Updated: Apr. 23, 2020 at 6:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As South Carolina’s unemployment numbers grow to more than 340,000 people without work, claim filing issues continue.

Some people said they’ve gone more than a month now without a paycheck or unemployment benefits and they’re desperate for help.

The Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) has said for five weeks that its system was not created to handle this many claims or phone calls and that means, for some people struggling to make ends meet, there is still no help.

West Columbia resident Pam Dixon applied for benefits on March 28 after her hours were reduced and, just a few days later, she was furloughed. At that time, she also found out she tested positive for COVID-19. She selected "no" to the "willing and able to work question on the unemployment application because she was in quarantine. Now, nearly a month later, she is clear of COVID-19 but still has no income.

“I have a 16-year-old son. I don't know how we’re going to eat at this point," said Dixon. “I'm having to juggle paying a car payment or getting food for me and my child. It's beyond frustrating.”

Dixon said immediately after her claim was denied, she filed an appeal.

“It says that my appeal is ready to schedule, but I haven’t been called for an interview,” she explained.

She said she’s tried to call DEW through the Teleclaim number several times but can’t figure out the hold up on her application being approved.

“Every time you call, it’s a different story. Even part of my application says I’m eligible, and then the other part says I’m not,” said Dixon.

She, like so many other South Carolinians, is desperate to find out when, or if, she’ll receive money.

“I have cried and cried and cried. I wake up every day worrying if I'm going to make it," Dixon tearfully explained.

Lexington resident Darlene Koestner is also waiting on benefits.

"You’re not getting any money coming in, and that’s frightening," she said.

Her biggest frustration is not being able to reach a DEW employee on the phone.

“They put you on hold and then you wait another hour and a half, and then they hang up or say someone will call you back and then nobody ever calls you back," noted Koestner.

According to DEW, you can select a call back feature to hold your place in line, but if you don’t answer the callback, you are removed. If you call and receive a recorded message asking you to call back, that means there are too many people in line and you need to try again. The agency said calling at 8 a.m. is the best time because the queue has not built up yet.

“We still have much work to do. We know there are still a lot of individuals out here hurting and they’re still in need of our services. So, we’re working tirelessly with our vendor. We’re working tirelessly to ensure we can roll out the federal programs as we’ve been instructed," said DEW Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Suber.

If you’ve been approved for benefits but are still waiting on payment, DEW said it typically takes 14 days to receive money. However, with the massive demand, the agency acknowledges claims are taking longer. DEW said if your claim requires additional attention from a claims specialist, an employee has to reach out to you to get more information.

"Each claim is unique," said DEW spokesperson Heather Biance.

DEW said employer verification is required for every claim that comes through, but it’s not the only pending resolution item you could experience. The agency noted you could have answered something incorrectly or your wages weren't reporting properly. If you've filed a previous claim, that has to be reviewed. If you listed a job separation reason other than a layoff, that also requires additional resources.

DEW said it’s paid out over $350 million in benefits since the pandemic hit South Carolina, but they recognize there is still a lot of work to be done. The agency said it’s also working with its vendor to adjust its system for a new program that will allow self-employed and gig workers to be eligible for benefits.

They expect that program to be up and running soon.

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