Democrat Joe Cunningham wants SC Gov. McMaster to enact $1,200 return-to-work bonus

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After calling it “reckless” for Gov. Henry McMaster to end South Carolina’s extra unemployment benefits in the middle of a worker shortage, Democrat Joe Cunningham on Monday suggested another idea: Pay people $1,200 to get back to work.

Cunningham, a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, called for McMaster to use funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to pay the one-time, back-to-work bonus to incentivize people to become employed.

Cunningham, a former Congressman from Charleston who is seeking seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, supported a similar measure when he was in Washington.

In a statement, Cunningham said businesses in the Palmetto State are “still reeling from a pandemic that caused new and unexpected challenges.”

“From childcare issues and lack of in-person schooling to stagnant wages and understandable health concerns, there are numerous contributing factors to the current workforce shortage. But the solution is not to carelessly rip away vital unemployment assistance to people who are out of work through no fault of their own,” Cunningham said in a statement.

Cunnningham argued a one-time bonus will help workers get back on their feet while also helping businesses staff up to meet demand.

Cunningham’s proposal echoes a move announced last week by Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. Like McMaster, Gianforte last week also announced Montana would be ending its participation in federal pandemic-related unemployment programs.

In announcing the one-time bonus program, Gianforte said the incentives were needed along with ending the state’s dependence on the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

“Incentives matter and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good,” Gianforte said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce. Our return-to-work bonus and the return to pre-pandemic unemployment programs will help get more Montanans back to work.”

A request for comment from McMaster was not immediately returned.

On Friday, McMaster ordered the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce to withdraw from the federal government’s pandemic unemployment programs, which included a weekly $300 payments that was not set to expire until the fall.

Starting on June 30, South Carolina will no longer participate in the expanded unemployment benefits put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was outlined in a letter sent to DEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey. In the memo, McMaster aruged that the enhanced federal benefits were contributing to a lack of applications for open positions, especially those in the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing and health-care sectors.

“What was intended to be short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace,” McMaster wrote.

The pandemic led to a slowdown of the economy and higher unemployment rates.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate reached 12.8% in April of last year. In March, the unemployment rate was down to 5.1%, below the national rate of 6%. As the economy reopens and more South Carolininans get their COVID-19 vaccines, the state has seen more than 81,000 available job openings.

With the summer tourism season fast approaching, some hotel representatives in the Charleston area confirmed they were offering signing bonuses up to $750 to get people back to work.

Under Biden’s American Rescue Plan, South Carolina’s state coffers are set to get nearly $2.1 billion, according to the House Committee on Oversight Reform.

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