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Director: SC Unemployment Agency To Lay Off 153

By SEANNA ADCOX

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â¿¿ South Carolina's unemployment agency is laying off 100 employees in June as part of a statewide reorganization that directs anyone seeking jobless benefits to use its upgraded online system, the agency's interim director announced Tuesday.

John Finan said the Department of Employment and Workforce will eliminate one-on-one help with unemployment claims June 10, and the number of local offices offering job training and other re-employment services will shrink. Exactly how many of those 56 offices remain open past June will depend on decisions made by the state's 12 workforce investment boards, he told The Associated Press before the official announcement.

It comes two months after the ending of in-person unemployment help at 17 rural offices caused a backlash from legislators. Democrats particularly denounced the move as an attack on rural South Carolina, and the outrage culminated in the resignation of former Director Abraham Turner.

Finan said even that cut â¿¿ as well as hiring and travel freezes â¿¿ weren't enough to offset the loss of federal money, which funds the agency's operations. DEW's declining workload â¿¿ processing 50,000 claims filed weekly compared to nearly 140,000 in early 2011 â¿¿ required a statewide restructuring that brings South Carolina in line with how most states already handle claims, he said.

"We were way out of touch with other states in the country. We're coming up to modern times with technology," Finan said.

He insists that the continued downsizing creates an opportunity to shift the agency's focus.

"We're trying to refocus from unemployment, which has been the mantra for the office, to re-employment," Finan said. "We need to work on innovative things the state can do and locals can do to really put people to work."

Affected workers will receive notices this week. The vast majority of layoffs will come from local offices.

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