Lawmakers return to the Statehouse Tuesday for a special one-day session to consider a law change that will qualify jobless workers for an extended 20 weeks of federal unemployment benefits. Approximately 7,000 South Carolinians lost their benefits ten days ago when state benefits ended. Lt. Governor Andre Bauer says more than 100,000 residents have exhausted their benefits in recent months.
But the original legislation to correct the triggering mechanism and take advantage of the “federal money on the table” as Governor Sanford called it was introduced by Orangeburg Democrat Gilda Cobb-Hunter, during this past session. So why do lawmakers have to return to Columbia Tuesday, at taxpayer’s expense?
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham of Lexington county says he doesn’t want to blame anyone, but, “The real blame goes to the Employment Security Commission which was lobbying members, and that’s what happened.”
“Typically a matter like this need to be brought forth by the ESC,” said Bingham. “That’s their job, to protect workers and provide the benefits.” But because of the ESC restructuring attempt, Bingham says there was a lack of communication with that agency. The House vote on the legislation was close–56 to 54.
Bingham says on April 29th he and other members tabled all attachments on the ESC overhaul and inserted the mechanism to fix the ESC rules so that unemployed workers would be able to receive extended federal benefits. Bingham says there was a lack of communication, and at a time when he was working to fix the ESC rules, the agency was working against him to stop restructuring and there was a lack of information on the House floor.
Employment Security Commission Deputy Director Alan Larson, in charge of unemployment insurance, didn’t have any comment to Bingham’s point, but said he doesn’t want to point a finger at anyone. “There was a lot of controversy at that time, a lot of discussion about stimulus money.”
“Why it was not acted upon,” said Larson, “may have been some concern about, once the federal money went away, would the state be in the position to have to pay out more benefits in the long run?”