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  • South Carolina is going through one of the highest unemployment periods since the Great Depression. It is not just that the unemployment rate is high, people are also staying unemployed for longer. It is during this economic situation that legislators in South Carolina have decided to drop the number of weeks you can claim unemployment benefits from 26 to 20. It could have been worse. South Carolina is not alone in this latest spree of reducing unemployment benefits. Ten states have made cuts on unemployment benefits in the last month. While some states made modest reductions, such as Arkansas and Illinois which cut the number of unemployment weeks from 26 to 25, others were much more significant. For instance Missouri and Michigan also dropped their unemployment benefits from 26 to 20.

    The largest cuts were made by Florida, which also happens to be the third state with the highest unemployment rate after Nevada and California. Florida reduced the maximum number of unemployment benefits from 26 to a sliding maximum of 12 to 23 depending on the current unemployment rate. If the unemployment rate is 5 percent or lower, the maximum number of unemployment benefits is 12, if the unemployment rate is above 8 percent, the maximum is 23 weeks.

    South Carolina has chosen to follow the states that believe now is the time to cut investment in economic stimulus. This is not the only view. Many economists acknowledge the need to make cuts on entitlement benefits to balance the budget, but not while we are going through one of the worst financial periods in living memory. Now is the time to invest in the economy. States like Colorado and Rhode Island agree with this view and have increased the funding of their benefit programs to help unemployed workers.

    According to Christine Owens, director of the National Employment Law Project, NELP, said this on the issue of South Carolina unemployment cuts, "It’s disconcerting that these lawmakers would expend so much energy making cuts to state unemployment insurance programs when more people are out of work for longer than any other period on record. Rather than adopting responsible financing practices and doing the hard work of fostering job creation, far too many state lawmakers have taken the easy out of cutting workers’ unemployment insurance benefits."

    Unfortunately, the decisions have already been made. The safety net for South Carolina’s workers has just got smaller. The maximum number of weeks of unemployment insurance has dropped from 26 to 20 as the end of federal programs, such as Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits are set to end by December 2011.

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