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Georgia, South Carolina are tightening reins on unemployment aid

Published: May. 7, 2021 at 2:11 PM EDT|Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 4:35 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Officials in Georgia and South Carolina are stressing that re-employment is the best recovery plan for the region after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and they’re shifting policies to reflect that philosophy.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says the state will stop participating in federal pandemic programs that give extra cash to unemployed workers.

And after a similar move by South Carolina, Georgia is reinstating the rule that unemployment benefit recipients must prove they’re looking for work.

“Right now is the time to be looking. The job market right now is as hot as it’s ever been,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.

More than 230,000 jobs are listed on employgeorgia.com.

These are jobs the commissioner says unemployed Georgians should start applying for.

While the Georgia Department of Labor’s mission is to bridge the pay gap for those unemployed, Butler says the agency must now shift its focus to re-employment.

The mood is the same in South Carolina.

Dan Ellzey, executive director of the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce, said getting people back to work is best for the “economic health of the state.”

He said McMaster’s directive to end involvement in all federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs provides “a clear plan to accelerate our economy by transitioning individuals from unemployment to employment.”

The national numbers reflect that same problem.

Employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, sharply lower than in March and far fewer than economists had expected.

The recovery from the pandemic recession has been so fast that many businesses have been caught flat-footed without enough workers in the face of surging consumer demand.

Last month’s hiring slowdown appears to reflect a host of factors. Nearly 3 million people are reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus, according to government surveys. More women also dropped out of the workforce last month, likely to care for children, after many of them had returned in the previous two months.

And some businesses say they believe that a $300-a-week jobless benefit funded by the federal government is discouraging some of the unemployed from taking new jobs.

That’s a view held by some politicians, as well.

One is Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I completely support Governor McMaster’s decision to stop taking federal unemployment assistance at the end of next month instead of waiting for it to expire in September,” Graham said in a statement. “The federal unemployment benefit has had the effect of discouraging return to work, and it is now time for that program to come to an end.”

He continued: “I know many have lost work due to no fault of their own, but it is now time to let the economy open fully depending on employer wages, not government benefits.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called Friday for Washington to immediately stop paying out-of-work Americans the extra $300 a week. The business group said the supplemental unemployment benefit, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to support the pandemic-ravaged economy, results in about one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment pay than they earned when they were working.

From reports by WTOC, WCSC and The Associated Press