"Employed" means having a job, and working.
"Unemployed" means not having a job, and not working.
"Unemployment benefits" are the weak, thin and pale safety net that South Carolina lawmakers pretend to offer our state's unemployed citizens as subsistence -- the barest minimum in funding that might help buy groceries and little else.
Because some public employees are only employed for nine months out of the year, simple arithmetic reveals that they are unemployed for three months out of the year. My elementary math teachers would be pleased at my ability to work out that equation.
Some of our lawmakers have stumbled upon the same answer, and they've realized that, indeed, unemployed citizens qualify for unemployment benefits. This, according to some lawmakers, is unacceptable.
So they seek to punish the unemployed -- for being unemployed.
Wouldn't you know, those lawmakers hail from the Upstate.
What is it about the Upstate that drives many of its legislators to take the lead on whipping the weak, beating the beaten, punishing the poor, depriving the destitute? Is it a vestigial tail of the Upstate's old mill village system, wherein mill owners and mill supervisors acted as mayors, big-daddies, judges, juries and executioners, all rolled together? Those mill titans, after all, set their own personal values as mill-village rules and regulations, and those daring to break the rules were cast out on the sidewalk -- literally. Factually. Historically. Demonstrably.
Examples were made of those mill chattel who dared to imagine having rights as American citizens.
A hundred years later, examples are being made of our public employees who dare to draw the benefits available to them. The Greenville News reports it:
Some substitute teachers have collected unemployment benefits for being out during school breaks, such as summer recess, and some legislative pages or aides also are able to collect unemployment, say lawmakers who are moving to stop such benefits.
South Carolina teachers, including substitutes, are forbidden by law from collecting unemployment when they aren’t working during holiday, spring or summer breaks. But the law refers to teachers employed by school systems, and some staffing companies are now employing hundreds of substitute teachers, making the teachers exempt from the unemployment law.
The disclosures come as some legislators are moving to tighten benefits and wring the system of waste. A January 2010 audit found that the agency had spent $171 million over three years paying benefits to those fired for misconduct and illegal acts.
Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, who chairs a subcommittee studying unemployment benefits, said the eligibility of those teachers and legislative workers are examples of holes in the system he wants to tighten.
“We’re trying to put our fingers in the dike,” he said.
Here's a suggestion: Lawmakers can seal up the whole dam altogether by eliminating hundreds of corporate tax loopholes and requiring big, powerful corporate titans to pay taxes in South Carolina just like the moms and pops running corner stores. Sticking a finger in a dike is petty; big, powerful lawmakers ought to be able to do better than this.
Rep. William Sandifer, a Seneca Republican who chairs the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and authored the bill addressing the substitute teacher situation, said it all boils down to treating substitutes hired by private firms the same way as those hired by public schools.
“It’s a matter of being fair and equitable and living up not only to the letter but also to the spirit of the law,” he said.
Rep. Garry Smith, a Simpsonville Republican who chairs the House Operations and Management Committee, said he authored a budget proviso that passed the House that would prevent pages and legislative aides from collecting unemployment. Legislation addressing seasonal workers that he believes would also ban legislative aides or pages from collecting unemployment also is pending in the Senate, he said.
“We have made it very clear up front that legislative aides are temporary, part-time workers,” he said. “They are only here while we are here in session. I don’t think there was ever any intent by the General Assembly that they would ever be eligible for unemployment.”
The lesson to be learned from this news, readers, is this:
How do you keep powerless people down?
You kick 'em while they're down, and you keep kicking 'em, and keep kicking 'em...