Unemployed South Carolinians would have to clear several more hurdles before receiving jobless benefits, under several new bills that cleared a state Senate panel Tuesday.
Jobless workers would have to perform community service after six months of receiving jobless benefits under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek).
Campbell said he wants to help unemployed workers keep their skills honed, “There’s a lot of activities out there that can be done by folks that are looking for work,” he told members of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Industry committee, “We’re asking for 16 hours a week… that they’ll go in and do some kind of community service. And I don’t mean picking up trash on the side of the highway. If you’re a degreed person, you can work in the schools system, support a teacher.”
Campbell said he chose 16 hours because he wanted to give people a chance to continue looking for work the rest of the week.
The panel also a second bill that would require unemployment insurance recipients to successfully pass a drug test and a third that would not allow a person to collect the benefits if they are only seeking part-time work.
“We just can’t do things the way we used to do them,” said Sen. Kent Williams (D-Marion), who voiced support for the community service requirements, “It just don’t work anymore.”
However, an advocate group said thousands of struggling South Carolinians would be unfairly caught up in the changes.
“I wish we would start loooking at the people of South Carolina in a better lens,” said Sue Berkowitz of the Appleseed Legal Center, “What we’re doing is we’re talking to them as if somehow they’re already a criminal.”
Berkowitz say the community service requirement would violate federal law, which frowns upon setting conditions for unemployment insurance. She said South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce should instead encourage people to voluntarily enroll in nonprofit programs.
SCDEW director Abraham Turner seemed to echo her sentiments, although he said he supported Campbell’s efforts. “Finding a way to exact a voluntary effort would probably be a plausible solution,” he told the committee members.
However, Sen. Kevin Bryant said it’s already optional– an out-of-work person can volunteer at a nonprofit right now if they want to. He insisted the Senate would seek to make the service hours mandatory, even if it meant a lawsuit.
“It’s time for us to start pushing back on the feds,” he told reporters, “This is a step in that direction.”
Berkowitz said she did not like that attitude. “They said that about the anti-immigration legislation that went through, too. And we saw what the courts said.”
A federal judge struck down some sections of South Carolina’s new immigration law last month.
Turner also told the committee that his agency was cracking down on those employees who were fired for absenteeism, poor work, or other cause. The new SCDEW policy would only allow those workers to receive four weeks of unemployment benefits, instead of the 10 weeks they can currently receive. Bryant said those employees should not get any benefits, at all.