South Carolina has applied for a federal program that could provide an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits as claims filed in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold rose past a quarter of a million.

The state submitted its application for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Lost Wages Assistance program on Wednesday, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce and S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster announced, and now awaits federal approval.

“Our state should be proud of the economic recovery efforts and the progress we have made to date, but we know that some of our citizens are still struggling in the wake of this pandemic,” McMaster said in a news release. “We’ve chosen to participate in this program in a way that will provide additional unemployment relief from the federal government while maintaining our strong record of fiscal responsibility and protecting the interests of South Carolinians.”

For the week ending Aug. 22, 5,524 people filed initial employment claims in S.C., according to DEW data. A state-high 523 claims were filed in Richland County.

In the last 23 weeks, 725,228 initial claims have been filed in the state, and DEW has paid more than $3.87 billion in a combination of state and federal benefits.

McMaster authorized DEW and executive director Dan Ellzey to apply for the federal aid in a letter (.pdf) drafted Wednesday.

The LWA grant was created in response to the expiration of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. If approved, the South Carolina LWA would provide an additional $300 in benefits on top of a claimant’s weekly benefit amount, according to the release.

For each week a claimant is eligible for at least $100 in state or federal unemployment benefits, the LWA will add $300. The average S.C. weekly benefit is approximately $260.

LWA payments would be retroactive to Aug. 1. The grant program, set to end on Dec. 26, has a funding cap, and payments would cease before its sunset date if that funding is exhausted.

“Deciding whether or not it was in the state’s best interest to apply for these funds was not an easy decision,” Ellzey said. “Taking the time to weigh the options in order to best mitigate the state’s risk and ensure it wouldn’t cost South Carolina taxpayers was the right thing for the governor and legislators to do.”

Ellzey said DEW has been testing changes in its benefits portal based on U.S. Department of Labor guidance. “If South Carolina is approved, we will work as quickly as possible with our vendor to get the application into the system,” he said.

The 5,524 unemployment claims filed for the week ending Aug. 22 represented a decrease of 1,731 claims from the previous week and is the lowest weekly total since mid-March, Ellzey said.

“This data fluctuates even in non-pandemic times,” Ellzey said. “So, while we are pleased to see the numbers trend back down this week, it’s the month-over-month data that is more meaningful and impactful. If we look at the data from claim weeks ending July 4-July 25, the total is 61,931 initial claims filed. Reviewing the last four weeks of data (claim week ending Aug. 1–Aug. 22), the total number of initial claims filed was 27,609, a very significant decrease and a better indication of individuals returning to work.”

For the week ending Aug. 22, Greenville County saw 453 initial claims filed while Charleston County saw 347. Lexington County had 325, Spartanburg County 321 and Horry County 318.


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