The unemployment saga continues in Georgia. Republican Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced recently that only ten percent of individual claims filed are reported as layoffs, forcing a manual review of most claims and slowing down the process. At the same time, a group of Democratic Representatives are claiming that “the Georgia Department of Labor is not working to assist Georgians who lost their jobs through no fault of their own return to the workforce.” The lawmakers are encouraging these Georgians to return to work, while they (lawmakers) look for ways to increase the minimum wage in Georgia.

According to Commissioner Butler, regular UI initial claims last week totaled 19,761, down 988 over the previous week, the lowest number of weekly claims in 2021. However, Butler emphasized that initial claim numbers are not a direct correlation to layoffs. If the separation reasons provided by the employee or the employer report a quit or a discharge from the place of employment, the reason must be researched and adjudicated, as required by federal law. Although a claimant may potentially be eligible for UI benefits if they quit a job or are fired from a job, these circumstances do not normally lead to eligibility.

“Claims filed due to layoffs are determined quickly and payments can be released without delay,” said Butler. “However, we are not seeing many simple layoff claims at this time and we must review each claim thoroughly to ensure a claimant is eligible for payments, protecting the employer from wrongful claims and avoiding a potential overpayment for the claimant.”

According to the latest report, in April of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, 372,242 individual initial claims were filed and 49 percent of those filed were due to employers lacking work for the employee and laying off staff. In January 2021, these claims represented a quarter of UI claims filed. In March, the number dropped to 20 percent and only 10 percent of this May’s 74,783 individual UI claims were reported as layoffs.

Meanwhile, State Representatives Rhonda Burnough (D-Riverdale), Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain), Sandra Scott (D-Rex) and Kim Schofield (D-Atlanta) released a statement saying they “empathize with Georgia workers who have become accustomed to an increase in income due to the additional $300 federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, and as such, they seek to increase the minimum wage in Georgia.”

“We have just celebrated the Fourth of July, and a consistent theme about the holiday was the lack of workers in the service industry,” said Reps. Burnough, Davis, Scott and Schofield, in a prepared statement. “We would like for everyone to return to work, especially after our educators went back to work at their schools. However, we empathize with workers who received the extra $300 federal assistance along with their UI benefits. These workers were able to see and feel what it is like to be paid $15 an hour. So, we believe these workers should not have to return to jobs that are low-paying and without any health benefits.”

The Georgia Department of Labor recently ended the state’s participation in the federal unemployment insurance (UI) programs enacted through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. The last payable week for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) was week ending June 26, 2021.

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