Gov. Nikki Haley upset some folks when she ordered state offices to answer the telephone by saying, Its a great day in South Carolina. That greeting might have been better accepted had it been followed by unless, of course, youre unemployed and living in a rural area in which case youre screwed.
If you lose your job in this state, you can go down to the nearest SC Works Center and receive help with your application for unemployment insurance, provided you dont live in one of 17 counties where such services will be terminated Friday.
Seven of those counties are included in the 10 counties with the highest unemployment rates. Chester County, which last month had the ninth-highest unemployment, is one.
Defenders of the cutbacks say that jobless South Carolinians can apply for assistance online. True, but what about people who dont have a computer or dont know how to negotiate the virtual bureaucracy that stands between them and the $239 average weekly payment this state provides people who are laid off through no fault of their own?
Chester Countys jobless can drive to the nearby SC Works Center in Lancaster or Rock Hill. Those offices are 29.7 miles and 25.6 miles, respectively, from the office in Chester. Thats more than 50 miles round-trip for people hard-pressed to pay for gasoline. That assumes, of course, that they have a car. And, if they wait for public transportation, good luck; its virtually non-existent in Chester County.
Officials say they had no choice but to curtail services because their manpower has been depleted in response to federal cutbacks. Curtailment was based on which offices had the lowest foot traffic.
It might be harder to argue with that logic if it didnt beg the question: Cant the Department of Employment and Workforce assign employees to rural counties during certain days of the week, or month? Surely, if jobless citizens can drive 50 miles, the state can send workers to an adjacent county once in a while.
In dealing with South Carolinas neediest, many state leaders have adapted Rhett Butlers mantra: Frankly, they dont give a damn.
Thats why they passed the so-called South Carolina Voter ID Law, which was intended to intimidate poor voters mostly blacks who lack a drivers licenses or another photo ID, despite that no one could recall anyone being charged with voter fraud.
Then there was Act 388, the 2006 law that eliminated property taxes on homes for local school operations, adding another penny to the sales tax despite that the latter falls heaviest on the poor and is a much less stable source of revenue.
Since that bill was passed, the General Assembly consistently has reneged on its commitment to public education. The schools suffering the most are those serving inner city and rural communities.
Such indifference, if not outright hostility, toward poor people pales in comparison to the position Gov. Haley and several Republican lawmakers have taken on extending protection to South Carolinians who cannot afford health insurance. They have vowed to opt out of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that would extend Medicaid coverage to people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
In approving Obamacare, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that states could not be forced to expand Medicaid coverage. If South Carolina opts out, however, people making less than $11,000 a year will be covered neither by Medicaid nor subsidized private insurance.
Ironically, a law that was intended to extend health insurance coverage to nearly all Americans will leave several hundred thousand of South Carolinas poorest citizens with no health insurance at all,
According to one study, although South Carolina could see its share of Medicaid increase by nearly $500 million between 2014-2019, opting out would cause the state to forfeit almost $11 billion in federal Medicaid money.
Haley says shes sticking to her guns, even though South Carolina hospitals have volunteered to tax themselves to cover the states share.
Robert Greenwald, director of the Harvard Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, said it best: Poor people, once again, will be thrown under the bus.
Another great day in the Palmetto State.
Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at email@example.com.