Mar 15 2011
Greenville News – COLUMBIA — With the state facing more than $900 million in federal unemployment loans and businesses urging lawmakers to be less punitive in jobless insurance, some lawmakers want to look at the idea of cutting benefits to those out of work.
The idea, which is moving forward in other states, is not likely to be tried in South Carolina until at least next year because the federal government doesn’t allow states receiving an emergency extension of benefits to reduce the maximum weekly benefits.
That program could expire next summer.
Sen. Kevin Bryant said he’d like to consider reducing benefits. He is an Anderson County Republican on the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and chairman of a subcommittee that has dealt with unemployment insurance rates.
Bryant said he’s had several constituents who have asked for help in continuing to receive unemployment checks but not to find jobs.
“I think part of our unemployment problem could be attributed to this,” he said. “I don’t have any sympathy for this type of mentality.”
Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican, said he would like to see the idea studied, in part because some believe they can earn as much money collecting checks as they can finding a job.
“I think it’s becoming a way of life for a lot of our population,” he said. “We need to discourage that. We have folks now trying to get people at $12-an-hour jobs and people are turning them down. It’s getting to the point where unemployment is an alternative employment.”
Sen. John Land, leader of the Senate Democrats, said he would oppose any reduction, arguing the benefits amount to a contract between the employer and the employee, using the state’s unemployment trust fund.
“Why the Republicans want to hit people when they are down I will never understand,” he said. “It’s not a Christian approach.”
Bryant said giving some people unemployment checks is “exacerbating a laziness problem.”
“I have one constituent who is in the concrete business and have had people tell him, ‘This work is hard. I’d just as soon stay home and draw my unemployment.’ Unemployment is supposed to be helping people get through hard times until they can find another job. I think if we stretch that too far, we end up giving people a reason to not work.”
He said some have asked for help with their unemployment. When he offered to help find them a job, he said one jobless caller told him, “No, I’m not interested in a job. I just want my check.”
In one case, he said, another constituent told him he had a job offer if he could obtain a commercial driver’s license. Bryant said he offered to help him find a scholarship to train for a license, but the man declined, telling his secretary he just wanted to continue to receive his check. read on
Capital bureau reporter Tim Smith can be reached at 803-256-7367.