This past week, the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) started creating a system to implement the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program, that will distribute an additional $300 supplement to eligible individuals receiving benefits from Georgia’s state and federal unemployment insurance programs. Certification requirements for this program are different than the certification requirements for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Program. Due to these requirements, the GDOL will need to develop a new computer system to administer the payments. The GDOL anticipates programming to begin this week and implementation to be completed within three to four weeks.
On Aug. 8, 2020, President Trump approved up to $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to Americans who have lost wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This benefit is currently time-limited to an initial three-week period and not everyone who has filed an unemployment claim will be eligible. Additional benefits are contingent upon availability of remaining FEMA funds. States will be required to request additional funding every week after the introductory three-week period of benefits are distributed. The period of assistance is Aug. 1, 2020 to Dec. 27, 2020 or at the termination of the program, whichever is sooner. Assistance from FEMA for providing the LWA supplement payment may terminate prior to Dec. 27, 2020 if: FEMA expends the funds appropriated for supplement lost wages assistance; or Congress passes a new FPUC Program.
Individuals do not need to call or apply separately for this benefit. This additional payment will be automatically issued to eligible claimants currently receiving state or federal unemployment benefits for the weeks ending Aug. 1, Aug. 8, and Aug. 15. Eligibility for the LWA Program is based upon an individual’s weekly benefit determination – an amount calculated by a claimant’s reported wages. Individuals must have received a weekly benefit amount determination of at least $100 to be eligible for LWA. He/she must also be unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Information on LWA and other unemployment and reemployment programs can be found on the agency’s webpage at dol.georgia.gov.
“We are working as quickly as possible to build an application to meet the new FEMA guidelines to process these weekly supplements,” said Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “I am thankful we have an IT and UI team that is able to interpret extensive federal guidelines and develop a system that will support the specifications these systems demand.”
In addition, the GDOL has implemented a set of new tools to be used to combat an overwhelming increase in fraud, as seen in recent months in Georgia and across the nation. The GDOL formed a partnership with the nationally recognized program ID.me to provide a complete identity platform for online identity verification. This solution when combined with other fraud prevention methods provides a multifactor authentication that is critical to claimant security.
ID.me is free for claimants to identify themselves and is a secure method for validating personal information, ensuring claimants accounts are not accessed by someone else. This program offers support, including video chat with trained staff members, to help claimants quickly and easily verify their identity. If a claimant is asked to verify their identity, they will be directed to the GDOL ID.me validation page and given specific steps to follow. Once the identity is verified, the claimant will receive a second email with instructions to reestablish access to their unemployment account.
“Fraud is something this agency takes very seriously, and we have formed a task force with several state and federal agencies to work together to tackle individual and organized crime,” said Commissioner Butler. “These chaotic times have provided a golden opportunity for bad actors to try to manipulate the system. However, those individuals need to understand that we will investigate each case of fraud, track down those who are cheating the program, and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
To help identify potential fraud, the GDOL encourages individuals to report fraud and abuse on the agency’s homepage under Online Services at dol.georgia.gov. The link offers options for reporting several different types of fraud, including:
- Individuals receiving UI and not reporting earnings, not searching for work, currently incarcerated, or not able to look for or accept work
- Individuals offered a job and refusing the job
- Individuals using someone else’s social security number
“The most common situation we are seeing right now is when a claimant begins to receive funds for a few weeks and then benefits stop when another claim is filed using their social security number,” said Commissioner Butler. “We realize this is very frustrating, but we must ensure we are issuing payments to the correct person to protect both the claimant and the integrity of the entire UI program.”
After 18 consecutive weeks of over 100 thousand initial claims, claims numbers have dropped below 100 thousand for a fifth consecutive week. For week ending August 22, initial claims totaled 56,768, down 1,331 from the prior week. The agency issued $211 million in regular unemployment benefits and federal funds for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) payments, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplements, and State Extended Benefits. Since March 21, $12.7 billion has been paid to eligible Georgians in unemployment benefits.
From week ending 3/21/2020 through 8/22/2020, 3,545,261 regular UI initial claims have been processed, more than the last eight years combined (3.3 million). Of all claims processed, 1,526,677 were identified as valid claims. The invalid claims could potentially be duplicate filed claims or those without enough earned or any wages to receive benefits.
The number of initial unemployment claims filed throughout the United States for the week ending August 22 was 1,006,000, a decrease of 98,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 1,104,000.
Last week, the GDOL issued more than $48 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments to eligible individuals who are self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, employees of churches, employees of non-profits, or those with limited work history who do not qualify for state unemployment benefits. The PUA program may provide benefits to claimants that did not have enough wages to establish a valid regular state UI claim but were prohibited from employment due to COVID-19. From week ending 3/21/2020 through 8/22/2020, 329,036 PUA claims have been validated.
In addition, the total federal funds issued to Georgians for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) totaled over $41 million last week. Over the past 22 weeks, the GDOL has issued more than $8.5 billion in FPUC funds. FPUC provided an additional $600 weekly payment to any individual eligible for both state and federal unemployment compensation programs. This program ended July 31.
From week ending 3/21/2020 through 8/22/2020, the sectors with the most regular UI initial claims processed included Accommodation and Food Services, 846,192, Health Care and Social Assistance, 418,313, Retail Trade, 383,556, Administrative and Support Services, 298,653, and Manufacturing, 274,084.
As of 8/25/2020, the trust fund balance was $156,875,377, down $2.390 billion, or 94 percent, from the 3/24/2020 balance of $2,547,476,454.