Bill would shift agency to Cabinet

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COLUMBIA --- Legislation introduced Wednesday would give Gov. Mark Sanford control of the unemployment benefits agency he has criticized as being out of control in a fight that at times has threatened to halt checks to South Carolina's jobless.

House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham's legislation would make the South Carolina Employment Security Commission part of the Republican governor's Cabinet and rename it the Workforce Department. It does nothing to address shortfalls in an unemployment trust fund that has the commission needing more than $300 million in federal loans to cover payments through March.

In December, Mr. Sanford didn't sign off on federal borrowing until the eleventh hour after weeks of criticizing the agency for not providing details about the unemployed. He relented when a deal was struck on that issue and when legislators called for an audit of the commission.

It is "clearly an agency he ought to have control over," said Mr. Bingham, R-West Columbia.

For now, the bill should help in getting the information needed to help put people to work and bring cooperation with the state Commerce Department, Mr. Bingham said.

"The problem we've got right now is we're trying to get our hands around what the real problems are -- where the problems are -- inside the agency," he said.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the change would make the agency more accountable. Mr. Sanford called on legislators to send him the bill quickly.

The commission's chairman and executive director did not immediately respond to interview requests.

Mr. Bingham said the second part of the overhaul would involve ways to make sure the unemployment trust fund and system operate more like an insurance program, with employers who send fewer workers to unemployment lines paying less.


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