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Single mother feels ‘left behind’ by order to end unemployment benefits early

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 7:39 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Governor Henry McMaster doubled down on his decision to stop federal pandemic programs two months early on Tuesday.

The day after appearing on Fox News saying the Biden administration’s COVID relief proposals puts the state on the path to “socialism”, McMaster said it’s time to get rid of benefits that are disincentivizing people to work.

“The threat is much less than it was before,” McMaster said of the virus.

According to the SC Department of Employment and Workforce, there are 81,684 open positions in the state of South Carolina, with 120,783 unemployed workers as of March.

“I get texts from people from all sorts of businesses around the state, they are looking for people to work and the people just won’t come to work because they are getting just as much money or more in some cases by staying home,” McMaster told Fox News.

But for Ashley Duvall, staying at home isn’t a choice despite wanting to go back to work soon.

Duvall gave birth to her first son on February 2020 and was on leave from her job when the state started to lockdown. As a single mom with a 14-month-old child, she says her only hope of going to work is finding childcare.

“It’s not fair to moms or even dads who have to stay home because there is no childcare and when there is childcare it’s expensive,” she said about the governor’s decision.

Duvall said she has worked since she was 16, but now she is living off of previous stimulus checks, her tax returns, and the good will of her landlords who are generous about her rent.

She said she only received unemployment benefits for a short time despite qualifying for them because of a mix-up that has been sending her checks to a previous address, an issue she said she is struggling to get fixed.

But even then, the potential of an influx of cash at the end of the summer was keeping her going.

“For them to cut unemployment that just kind of makes me lose a little hope,” she said.

McMaster said there are open childcare facilities across the state, and he is working to expand 4K education, but Duvall said she keeps being put on waitlists for daycares and government assistance programs.

She said if she was able to take one of the open jobs she is qualified for, all of the money she would make would go to paying for childcare and nothing else.

“I just don’t understand how they can leave us behind,” she said.

Economist Joe Von Nessen with the University of South Carolina agrees with the governor that there is a labor shortage in the state but also said it’s possible for people like Duvall to not make enough at work to get by.

“If you were earning 16 dollars an hour or less and working full time before the pandemic began, then from a financial perspective you are actually better off right now than you would be getting back to work,” Von Nessen said.

He explained that there are high paying positions available, but those are in sectors like manufacturing or construction that may require specific skills or a certain degree.

Duvall hopes to take one of those skilled jobs soon, she has a dream of being an advocate for victims of human trafficking and wants to start attending school part-time when she can.

But for now, she said having a “pandemic baby” is more challenging than people realize. From navigating shortages and surges in essential goods like paper towels to the high price of gas, to the constant fear of infecting your child, learning to be a mother is a full-time job.

“He looks at people without a mask-like they are aliens,” she said about her son with a laugh.

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