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Policy: Entitlements

SC unemployed can seek benefits via smartphones

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News,Business,South Carolina,Entitlements,Technology,Unemployment,Smartphones

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's unemployment agency unveiled Wednesday a free app that allows jobless residents to seek weekly benefits through their iPhones.

The Department of Employment and Workforce calls it the nation's first such app for smartphones. The U.S. Department of Labor did not immediately respond to voice and email messages.

State agency spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said the mobile application offers a convenience while also helping the agency reduce fraud. According to an agency survey, 70 percent of jobless South Carolinians receiving benefits access the internet via a smartphone at least once daily.

The app is an extension of the agency's move toward automation. People still must fill out initial applications for benefits either online or by phone. In-person help with unemployment claims ended last June.

The app, called SC Weekly iClaim, became available for Apple devices on Wednesday. The agency hopes to have it available for Android devices by late this year, she said.

According to the agency, it helps reduce fraud through a locator function and by the questions it asks as part of the filing process. The app detects where someone is located when the filer touches the final "yes" for a weekly payment. By law, the jobless qualify for the benefit only if they were available to work in South Carolina that week, so if filers are located outside the state, their submissions will be flagged as possibly unable to work here.

A fact-finding review will determine whether the person fraudulently sought benefits or, for example, went on a quick weekend trip but was still available during the week, Fairwell said.

Questions asking whether someone worked that week and, if so, the amount received should reduce overpayments, she said. People can earn up to a quarter of their former paycheck and still receive unemployment assistance, though such work would reduce that week's benefit.

"We found through our research that people aren't necessarily committing fraud knowingly," but they may not think of money received for an odd job as a paycheck, Fairwell said.

Those who install the app will receive reminders about their claims as well as push notifications about local job fairs and other hiring events. The app also features a map function pinpointing offices around the state that provide re-employment services.

Radha Consulting, of Portland, Ore., was awarded a $100,000 contract to develop the app.

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