COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The governor of South Carolina, a vocal opponent of federal bailouts in a state beset by one of the nation's highest jobless rates, has decided to take stimulus money to increase weekly unemployment checks by $25, officials said Monday.
Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's decision came over the weekend after he determined that every other state would be taking the extra benefit money, said spokesman Joel Sawyer.
"Every other governor in the country had signed off on the request as well," Sawyer said.
Sanford, the head of the Republican Governors Association, has been a harsh critic of the stimulus package signed into law last week and other federal bailouts, calling them wasteful and a ticket to higher taxes in the future. But he has not said he would refuse the money, and in recent days his administration has said it was reviewing the $787 billion stimulus package to see what money the state should take.
The stimulus bill calls for using $145 million to increase South Carolina's unemployment benefits. The average unemployed worker now gets $243.94 weekly; the maximum benefit is $326. The stimulus money brings the first increase in state jobless benefits in at least two years, Employment Security Commissioner Becky Richardson said.
Sanford's decision to use the money came Saturday. The next day he was on "Fox News Sunday" with other governors in an appearance where he refused to rule out a 2012 presidential bid.
South Carolina posted a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in December, the nation's third highest. The state's fund that pays benefits to the jobless has been depending for months on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal loans to stay solvent. In a political sideshow to the state's employment problem, the governor has been faulting the state agency that pays jobless benefits for failing to match out-of-work residents with vacant positions and not making available unemployment data that could be used to target business incentives.
While he is accepting money for the increase, the governor will not likely go along with part of the stimulus plan that extends unemployment benefits to part-time workers, Sawyer said. "That's something that's a near certainty that we will not be taking," he said.
Sawyer said expanding benefits to part-time workers would ultimately add more expenses to the state's unemployment trust fund and increase the taxes businesses pay into the fund.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.