Next week 16,379 South Carolina residents who have long been searching for work will not receive an unemployment benefit payment, due to the federal budget cuts known as the sequester.
Across the state, nearly $4 million will vanish from the economy. In Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, 2,060 people will be denied a payment that averages about $235 a week before taxes.
“Contrary to the assertions of some, no one’s getting rich on unemployment,” said Matthew LeBlanc, a 33-year-old unemployed Mount Pleasant resident. “I’ve actually been looking high and low for work since late January.”
LeBlanc said he didn’t think it would be so difficult for an experienced communications professional with a college degree to find work.
He and the many others who will be denied a benefit payment next week are those collecting extended, federally funded unemployment payments, known as emergency unemployment compensation or EUC. Those payments are available for up to 29 weeks, after exhausting the 20 weeks of compensation South Carolina allows.
Federal spending was broadly cut as part of the “budget sequester” that took effect when Congress was unable to compromise on a budget plan. South Carolina decided to deal with unemployment compensation cuts by skipping three weeks of payments to the long-term unemployed, in May, July and September.
“Monday’s lack of EUC payment will hurt, but I have to admit — I’m one of the lucky ones,” said LeBlanc. “My wife has a good job, but we’re still living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
In Charleston County alone, there are 1,134 people collecting the federal EUC payments.
They will share the pain of federal budget cuts with an estimated 4,300 Charleston-area civilian Department of Defense workers who are losing 11 days’ pay due to mandatory furloughs in July, August and September. Also, defense contractor Honeywell said this month that it will lay off at least 320 workers in Goose Creek due to federal spending reductions.
“Eventually the rest of us will start feeling it, when all those people stop spending money,” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which advocates for low-income South Carolinians.
“We should be up in arms, asking why Congress can’t sit down and work,” she said. “Can you imagine what it would mean if you didn’t get your paycheck one week?”
Adrienne Fairwell, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, noted the federal unemployment benefits will end completely after this year, unless Congress extends them once again.
The EUC program was created during the summer of 2008 as the nation plunged into a deep recession. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the program was modified most recently when the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended the expiration date to January 1, 2014.
Across the nation, EUC recipients in most states have seen their benefits reduced by a minimum of 10.7 percent weekly because of the sequester, according to the National Employment Law Project. North Carolina was dropped from the program entirely because of recent cuts made to benefit levels in the state program.
Jason Kuravilla, a U.S. Department of Labor spokesman, said the department preferred that states deal with the cuts by reducing benefit levels. Some states, he said, decided to skip whole payments instead because it was less complicated, or they lacked the technology to implement a percentage-based reduction in benefits.
In Mount Pleasant, LeBlanc said he’ll miss the EUC payment, but he’d much rather have a job.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.