Grand Strand workers start to receive unemployment checks as claims reach record high
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - South Carolina initial unemployment claims reached a record high last week as coronavirus outbreak impacts more and more businesses.
The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) reported 64,800 initial unemployment claims filed for the week ending March 28. The number beats the record of 41,000 claims filed in January 2002.
Since the state ended dine-in services two weeks ago, 96,000 people filed an initial claim for unemployment.
SCDEW typically processes about 2,000 claims a week so the massive increase in claims is overloading the system.
People have reported waiting hours on the phone, not being able to access the online portal at all, and having problems getting approved.
Despite the challenges, some of the workers left unemployed two weeks ago are starting to see the benefits.
“I just kept checking myself every day, just praying and hoping it would be there. Sure enough, it was,” said Jennifer Ellsworth, an employee at Dead Dog Saloon.
After two weeks of waiting, she said this week she received two payments this week.
“That feels amazing. At least I can pay my rent or some money on it,” Ellsworth said.
Her last day working was St. Patrick’s Day and she said it’s been a struggle.
“How I’m going to feed my children? How am I going to pay rent?” she remembered thinking when she first got the news. “Honestly, it’s been a tough situation for everyone involved, servers, bartenders, mainly. We work off of tips so that’s very rough for us.”
Many Horry County residents are employed by the hospitality and service industry and are now hit the hardest.
For the past two weeks, the county has lead the state in the number of unemployment claims filed. SCDEW reports nearly 15,000 Horry County residents have filed initial unemployment claims since the coronavirus outbreak.
Emily Garcia and her husband both work at a restaurant and are expecting a baby in a few months.
She said when her work closed on March 17, she immediately tried to file for unemployment but the site wouldn’t let her on for three days.
“It’s hard to be patient and understanding at the same time because we need help, we’re not working. I want to be nice and be like, ‘I get it. They have all this going on,’ but I also have bills to pay," Garcia said.
She said after two weeks of waiting, her payments finally got posted and should be deposited any day, which she said should get them by.
“Most of our bills are the essential bills that they are not going to cut off, but I don’t want to be like $100 behind on this because by the time I go back to work I’m going to have a $600 electricity payment of something crazy, so we’re trying to keep up with our bills the best we can so we’re not backed up by the time we do go back to work,” Garcia said.
Juanita Bolt said when her unemployment benefits finally came this week she was already playing catch up on some bills.
“It was just a little relief, like ok now this is starting so maybe things will start looking a little bit better, you know?" Bolt said. “Trying to pay a little bit at time with bills because bills have already gotten behind so you just got to play the catch-up game and luckily all the places are very understanding.”
She works at the Pan American Pancake House but has been out of work for two weeks. She said she did have to hold for 45 minutes on a few phone calls with SCDEW but her experience wasn’t terrible.
“If you can’t get through to the system just keep trying. There are little glitches there. The couple times I did try, I did have a little problem and then I just kept going back in and finally, it let me go through and do the whole process and just be patient with it,” Bolt said.
SCDEW is urging people to be patient and understand they normally process about 2,000 claims a week.
The department is adding and cross-training employees to assist with customer care. Its system is also going to be upgraded and thus unavailable to users from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
“We apologize for any inconvenience and ask for your patience as we improve our responsiveness to these unprecedented events and the demand on our agency and staff,” SCDEW wrote in a statement.
Commonly asked questions/ issues:
- Where do I go to file a claim?
- When will the money President Trump approved in the CARE Act be available?
- I’m having issues with my social security number.
- What eligibility has been waived?
Unemployment Insurance questions should be directed to 1-866-831-1724.
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