SC employment director turns in resignation
COLUMBIA — The director of South Carolina’s unemployment agency resigned Friday, following two weeks of criticism from legislators about the ending of one-on-one help at rural offices.
Department of Employment and Workforce Director Abraham Turner handed his resignation to Gov. Nikki Haley, saying he is leaving for personal reasons, effective March 1, unless the Republican governor decides to change that date.
“I thank you for the opportunity to serve the citizens and businesses of our great state in this capacity and will forever be grateful for the opportunity to help put South Carolinians back to work,” Turner wrote in a hand-scrawled, two-paragraph letter provided to The Associated Press.
His resignation comes a day after senators demanded answers for why the agency, since August, has given 69 employees raises totaling nearly $440,000 but is cutting one-on-one help for people seeking benefits in 17 rural offices statewide.
That in-person help ends Friday, though the offices will remain open for job-seeking services, and computers will remain available for accessing benefits services online.
Last week, Democratic legislators held a news conference to protest the plan, accusing Haley of not caring about rural South Carolina. She called the charge ridiculous and stood by the agency’s decision.
Employment and Workforce officials tried to assure senators Thursday that staff will still be at the offices to answer questions, and a video will provide directions for filling out forms online. In five of those 17 offices, an employee will hold workshops one day a week for a transitional time, said Erica Von Nessen, the agency’s director of unemployment insurance.
Statewide, 98 percent of initial claims already are filed online, she said.
But several legislators complained that many rural residents are not computer-savvy and shouldn’t have to drive to another county for one-on-one assistance, especially when transportation is often a problem.
The agency also cut 75 positions, eight of those from the 17 rural offices — 10 of which already held part-time operation hours. That’s in addition to 55 jobs cut last October. The agency, now at 997 employees, said the layoffs were due to a $15 million reduction in federal money for administration as fewer people seek unemployment benefits. Agency operations are almost entirely federally funded.
But the explanations didn’t comfort some senators.
The eight jobs eliminated in rural offices cut roughly $400,000 from the agency’s budget, Von Nessen said.