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McMaster’s end to pandemic aid met with criticism while staffing challenges remain

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 8:16 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The clock is ticking for federal pandemic unemployment aid in South Carolina.

On Thursday, Governor Henry McMaster announced six federal programs (worth an estimated $585.3 Million over ten weeks) would be ending on June 30.

PREVIOUS STORY | SC governor orders end of federal pandemic unemployment programs by late June

His argument is that the aid disincentivized workers from returning to the labor market, writing in a letter to Department of Employment and Workforce Executive Director Dan Ellzey :

“This labor shortage is being created in large part by the supplemental unemployment payments that the federal government provides claimants on top of their state unemployment benefits. In many instances, these payments are greater than the worker’s previous paychecks. What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace.”

DEW reports there are 81,684 open positions in the state of South Carolina, with 120,783 unemployed workers as of March.

Business leaders have raised concerns that the aid is crippling staffing.

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Village Idiot Pizza Co-Owner Brian Glynn said short-staffing has forced him to cut back hours his business operates, and he’s contemplating closing his business on Tuesdays.

“Mental health, physical health, not only for my wife and I but for our employees. A lot of them are working all six days. There’s a line where you don’t want to burn out the employees you do have to. There’s a lot of tough decisions to make that we’ve never faced before,” he said.

He said in April that he had 60 employees across three locations (when previously he had 90). Speaking with WIS in May, he said his staffing has dropped to the 50s despite increased starting pay.

Glynn said he does not attribute the lack of applicants solely to federal aid and recognizes its end may hurt some people. However, he said he did think it would help with staffing.

“Even now, if we were today to fill every position that we needed, we’re still at least a month away before we’re at a full functioning staff at all three places [due to training],” he said.

Critics of the governor’s decision said it will harm vulnerable groups. SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center Director Sue Berkowitz said mothers without childcare and those with health conditions will be punished.

“I think that it once again oversimplifies and once again talks about how we do not value the workers of our state,” she said.

President and CEO of the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce Frank Knapp said the end of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance would harm the start of new businesses.

“What is the message we’re giving to those 37,000 entrepreneurs in South Carolina, give up on your dreams? Give up on your industriousness and try to make a living and be self-employed and have a small business and go to work in the service sector. That is not the message we should be sending,” he said.

DEW reports that the week ending May 1, it paid 108,296 claimants an average of $230.04.

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