Cabinet welcomes new member

Finan (left), Sanford (right)

COLUMBIA -- For the first time during Gov. Mark Sanford's tenure, the head of the state's unemployment benefits agency will take a seat at the governor's Cabinet meeting today.

John Finan, a retired Air Force brigadier general and the new interim director at the state Department of Employment and Workforce, was appointed by the governor and confirmed last week by the Senate to fix the agency, formerly called the Employment Security Commission.

Finan took Sanford on a short tour of the agency Monday, the governor's first visit.

"This is the first step, not the last," Sanford said. "This larger notion of change within any agency is something that takes time."

In the past several months, the lawmakers passed legislation to rename the agency, kicked out the former management, put in a place a new process for installing an agency director and shifted oversight to the governor.

Additionally, the agency can no longer provide benefits to individuals who are fired for gross misconduct, and more must be done to help people who were laid off find new jobs.

The agency has been under fire for its performance during the economic downturn, including poor oversight of the trust fund that pays out unemployment benefits.

The fund went broke at the end of 2008 and the state has been borrowing money to pay the benefits since then.

The debt is projected to reach $2 billion before South Carolina can pay it off.

Employers make contributions for every worker on the payroll to fund the account.

Legislation is pending in the Senate to assign new payroll taxes to employers based on the frequency that they lay off workers. The bill must then go to the House and make it to the governor's desk before the Legislature's summer adjournment.

Sanford said he is confident that Finan will be able to work with the employees at the agency to make the needed changes.

He added that the state has seen some positive gains recently: 6,000 more people are working today in South Carolina than were four months ago and the state led the Southeast in 2009 in the number jobs and investment, primarily because of Boeing Co.'s expansion.