COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s unemployment agency is yanking benefits from thousands of people who are not searching for work through its online database, a change that has upset an advocate for the poor.
A new policy by the Department of Employment and Workforce requires those receiving benefits to search for at least one job weekly through the agency’s Web site as a way to verify they are looking for work as required.
Not doing so leads to a loss of benefits for that week, which cannot be recouped. However, benefits can resume the next week by logging on as required with a username and password. Searching through any other Web site doesn’t count.
“It’s definitely a way of encouraging people to look for and apply for jobs that meet their qualification,” said agency spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell.
The policy, which took effect Aug. 11, resulted in 17,147 people losing their benefits the first week. That’s roughly one-third of those who would have otherwise received money. The number losing benefits dropped last week to 8,859, or about one-sixth of those eligible, Fairwell said.
The agency expects the numbers to continue to decline, as the unemployed become “more vigilant in completing these work searches,” Fairwell said.
Sue Berkowitz of Appleseed Legal Justice Center questions the agency’s ability to unilaterally make such a change. She said it doesn’t make sense to require people to use an online system that she’s been told can be worthless and unhelpful.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “I’m mortified.”
Berkowitz said she’s exploring ways to challenge the policy.
South Carolina’s jobless can receive up to 20 weeks of employer-paid benefits.
The agency has not changed its requirement that job seekers make four contacts weekly, either online, by phone or in person. But at least one of those contacts must now be made through SC Works Online Services.
“We’re trying to verify they’re doing constructive work searches and not just telling us that by telephone,” DEW Director Abraham Turner told senators in January while briefing them on the agency’s upcoming policy changes.
Those who lack a home computer can use one at a public library or at one of the agency’s work centers, he said. There are 56 offices statewide, across 46 counties.
The agency alerted benefit recipients about the change in April, Fairwell said.
South Carolina’s jobless rate was 9.6 percent in July, marking the third consecutive rise in the monthly rate, and tying with North Carolina as fifth-highest nationwide.