COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's unemployment agency launched a free app Wednesday 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 last year, 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. That was part of $1.8 million the agency received from the federal government toward its automation initiative.
South Carolina overpaid an estimated $16 million in unemployment benefits between July 2012 and June 2013, representing 6 percent of all benefits paid. Most of that due was to people continuing to file for and receive benefits after returning to work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's website.
That's down from an overpayment rate that spiked to nearly 18 percent in 2010-11, representing about $69 million. Since then, the agency has made a series of changes, including crosschecking employment rolls monthly, aimed at catching more errors and catching them faster.