Gov. Henry McMaster made the right decision when he gave the green light for South Carolina to apply for supplemental federal unemployment funds, despite concerns about when the money will be available and whether it will benefit some of the people who need it most.
We are starting to see encouraging signs of an economic recovery here and across the nation, but it’s a fragile recovery. Unemployment in South Carolina remained above 8% in July, with the leisure and hospitality sector particularly hard hit, losing more than 20% of its workforce. Indeed, the 58,900 jobs lost in this sector since July 2019 make up almost half of all the state’s job losses.
Unfortunately, the governor may have waited too late for the federal program to offer much-needed assistance. South Carolina is at the end of a long line of states that already have signed up — and at the bottom of another list of states that have applied but so far not been approved.
According to a recent report by Politico, 42 states had reached a decision to participate before South Carolina did. At least four states are already issuing the lost-wage payments, and 11 expect to issue them in September. And as Department of Employment and Workforce Director Dan Ellzey said in a letter to the governor, it will take DEW up to three weeks to make the changes necessary to to administer the program once the federal government signs off.
While the $300 weekly checks will be retroactive to Aug. 1, they come from a FEMA disaster relief fund that contained only $55 billion before Hurricane Laura’s arrival on Aug. 26.
Experts expect the fund will be exhausted by mid-October. All the more reason for Congress to resolve its differences over the next round of pandemic relief.
The state’s delay in applying, while prudent since so much was initially unclear about what our obligations might be, means those unemployed South Carolinians who qualify (many will not) are unlikely to get any help until October, if then. But better late than never, and better some than none.
We hope that by October, the whole Trump emergency plan, which was meant as a stopgap after Congress allowed the previous federal unemployment supplement to expire July 31, will have been overridden by new congressional action.
Meanwhile, construction employment in South Carolina has returned almost to the high level it had reached last year, and construction employment is a bellwether of economic growth. Although many pundits predict a double-dip recession, early third-quarter data from the New York and Atlanta Federal Reserve banks indicate strong growth is occurring, according to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the American Action Forum, a conservative economic think tank.
South Carolina’s budget prognosticators note that a lot of our growth has been driven by the first round of federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, so how well it holds up still depends not just on COVID-19 infection rates but also on when or whether Congress decides on the next pandemic relief program.
So while things are looking up, there still aren’t enough jobs to go around, so unemployed workers — and through them our economy — can use all the help they can get.
This editorial is from The Post and Courier of Charleston via The Associated Press.
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