More than 64,800 South Carolinians applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 28, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce, doubling the all-time record set just one week before as the coronavirus outbreak continued to upend businesses and industry across the state.
The number includes nearly 14,600 new claims in Greenville, Spartanburg, Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties. Greenville County had the most, with 6,556 claims, followed by Spartanburg with 3,104 claims.
The speed and scale of new claims are unprecedented, said Jamie Suber, chief administrative officer for DEW.
“We’re doing all that we can to expedite the claim-filing process and make the process seamless for those that are truly in need,” Suber said during a recent news conference with Gov. Henry McMaster and other state officials.
The newly released figures represent a staggering 3,150% increase from two weeks prior, which saw just 2,000 initial claims.
Between March 29 and April 2 alone, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce, the state paid out approximately $10 million in unemployment benefits.
Notably, a large swath of workers isn’t counted among the state’s unemployment claims. That includes the self-employed, independent contractors, nonprofit employees and gig economy workers, none of whom pay into the state’s unemployment insurance program.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act does extend benefits to those individuals, but the money isn’t yet available, and states are awaiting official guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor for state-specific implementation, said Heather Biance, spokeswoman for the state employment office.
Biance said McMaster and the agency’s executive director signed documentation to accept the federal funds on March 28.
“We also do not have clear timelines on when we will receive that funding but will provide updates when we do,” she said.
To cope with the high volume of incoming claims and phone calls, Suber said his office is looking to move staff around and pay workers overtime. In the meantime, he said, the state is making real-time updates to its website, dew.sc.gov, where individuals can complete the entire unemployment claims process.