Most Georgia jobless to get $300-a-week payments

On Monday, federal and state officials said hundreds of thousands of Georgians who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic could receive $300 a week in enhanced unemployed benefits.

The plan, part of an Aug. 8 executive order by President Trump, requires the Georgia Department of Labor to set up a system that will distribute the money.

That will take at least three or four weeks, the DOL says.

The payments will replace what had been a larger supplement. In late March, Congress passed an emergency law that provided virtually all jobless Americans with $600-a-week extra, payments that helped pay bills and supported the economy. That law expired in late July. The House of Representatives passed an extension but not the Senate.

With tens of millions still jobless, President Trump signed an executive order Aug. 8 to shift funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a temporary supplement to unemployment benefits.

The money — up to $44 billion nationally — will come from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund.

In a statement, Gov. Brian Kemp called the announcement “truly life-changing.” He praised the Trump administration for “timely unemployment assistance to families weathering the economic impact of this pandemic.”

So far, only South Dakota has turned down the money. If every other state signs on, the FEMA funds would provide five or six weeks of the $300-a-week payments, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project.

Because it is coming out of disaster relief funding, the weekly payments could run out faster. Evermore said Iowa is asking for help with storm damage; two hurricanes are heading for the Gulf Coast; and California is on fire.

“So that could use up a lot of the $44 billion,” she said.

Not every jobless person is eligible, according to the DOL. Jobless workers who have been receiving less than $100 in benefits, and workers who lost their jobs for reasons besides the COVID-19 pandemic are not included.

“I think too many folks in Washington do not understand what it is really like to be broke and have to decide between taking out a payday loan or missing rent and not eating,” Evermore said. “This is absolutely too little, too late.”

More than 15 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits in early August, including more than 570,000 in Georgia, according to the Employment and Training Administration.

Economists and housing experts have been urging the federal government to take action to support jobless households and prevent a wave of evictions and hunger.

While the economy has grown solidly the past three months, it has not come close to making up the ground lost in the first two months of pandemic-triggered shutdowns. So the number of unemployed in Georgia dramatically exceeds the number of job openings.

Economists say that the emergency payments of $600 a week had been vital in allowing millions of laid-off Americans to pay their bills. And in about a week, September’s rent and mortgage payments will be due.