After 34 weeks of pandemic unemployment, the Georgia Department of Labor has processed all of the regular state unemployment applications in the queue. At this time, once an application is submitted, it takes less than seven days to process the claim. This accomplishment comes after the GDOL has processed over 4 million regular UI claims since March 21, 2020. After processing, the claim proceeds to eligibility determination – the most frequent step for a claimant to experience an extended wait. If a separation is due to reasons other than lack of work, such as a quit, discharge, leave of absence, or receipt of severance/retirement pay, additional review will be necessary to determine claimant eligibility. This review includes adjudication with a claims examiner and can potentially delay payments.
“Any delays you are currently hearing regarding claims are not related to processing,” said Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “We are processing claims at Pre-COVID rates. The claims that are taking a while are the ones where there is a disagreement about the separation reason between the employer and employee. This is similar to a court case traveling through the judicial system and appeals can be escalated all the way to the superior court. However, this can take time.”
A common misconception during the pandemic has stemmed from a misinterpretation of the Benefits Determination letter the claimant receives that shows the period and wages used to calculate a claimant’s weekly benefit amount. This letter is not a statement of approval, but only an explanation of the calculated benefit amount. After the claim is processed, a claimant’s last employer is notified and provided 10 calendar days to respond. After the employer has had an opportunity to respond to the claim, the separation reason is reviewed and a determination to allow or deny benefits is released and mailed to the claimant’s address. Claimants have the right to appeal all decisions released, including the weekly benefit amount and the determination of eligibility.
With the extreme increase in claims volume, the GDOL is continuing to hire experienced workers to assist in fact finding, eligibility determinations, and appeals. Benefit eligibility reviews and appeals dates are being addressed as quickly as possible to issue valid payments to approved claimants.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), established under the March Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, has provided benefits to many self-employed and IRS Form 1099 workers in the state of Georgia. For up to 40,000 PUA claimants, these benefits have already stopped or will be exhausting in the next few weeks after reaching the 39-week limit in accordance with federal program guidelines. The CARES Act does not include any provisions for additional extended benefits beyond the 39 weeks of PUA. Federal extension programs are enacted by the US Congress. The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) does not determine whether any additional extension programs will be enacted. If additional legislation is passed to extend the PUA program, GDOL will act swiftly to notify impacted individuals on the website and social platforms.
Today, over 162,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia for Georgians to access. These job opportunities have more than doubled since the April 2020 listing of just 73,000 jobs. The GDOL offers online resources for finding careers, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs. GDOL’s Business Services Unit hosts job fairs for businesses across Georgia and promotes employment positions regularly on EmployGeorgia.
Georgians have received more than $15.7 billion in unemployment insurance benefits since March of this year, more than the past 28 years combined. Last week, the GDOL dispersed over $174 million in benefits, which included nearly $52 million in regular unemployment and more than $5.8 million in federally funded Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) supplements, $43 million in Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), $52 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), $14 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and $5 million in State Extended Benefits.
Last week, regular UI initial claims totaled 23,827, down 13,426 over the week. PUA claims totaled 1,136 last week, making 342,592 claims during the pandemic.
The sectors with the most weekly regular UI initial claims processed included Accommodation and Food Services, 4,768, Administrative and Support Services, 2,506, Manufacturing, 2,446, Health Care and Social Assistance, 1,836, and Retail Trade, 1,461. Many claimants in the Accommodation and Food Services division have utilized the $300 earnings exemption rule allowing workers to earn wages and still receive unemployment benefits. An individual can make up to $300 per week without reducing their maximum weekly benefit amount, allowing employees to work reduced hours and still qualify for state weekly benefits. However, it is important to make sure all earnings are reported each week in order to avoid an overpayment that will require repayment to the GDOL.
The number of initial unemployment claims filed throughout the United States for the week ending November 7, 2020 was 709,000, a decrease of 48,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 757,000.