Unemployed Georgians will see less financial support, more rules

Starting June 27, workers who want to receive unemployment benefits in Georgia have to prove each week that they are looking for a job.
Starting June 27, workers who want to receive unemployment benefits in Georgia have to prove each week that they are looking for a job.

Credit: fil

Credit: fil

Later this month, Georgia will reinstate its requirement that those receiving state unemployment benefits prove they are actively looking for work. At the same time, the state will stop participating in pandemic programs that have allowed jobless residents to get extra financial support from the federal government.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday that the requirement to look for work, suspended during the pandemic, will go back into effect June 27. The day before, federal unemployment benefits will be cut.

Butler said the economy is returning to normal and so should the rules intended to keep jobless Georgians looking for work. “We adjusted many of our regulations during the pandemic to make receiving benefits easier during the crisis and now those modifications are no longer necessary,” he said.

Besides submitting proof of a job search each week, any Georgia resident receiving unemployment benefits must register for employment services with EmployGeorgia, he said. That jobs site lists about 238,000 job openings, according to the Department of Labor.

During the pandemic, residents who have lost steady employment have been able to earn up to $300 a week before seeing a reduction in their benefits. That limit will be decreased to $150, Butler said.

About 260,000 Georgians will be affected by the state’s plan to stop participating in federal programs that allow those who are jobless — including gig and contract workers, who are normally not eligible for state unemployment benefits — to collect federal unemployment benefits.

The Labor Department moves can hurt the state’s long-term economic health, argued Ray Khalfani, research associate at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a liberal research and advocacy group.

At a time when many people can’t work because of childcare needs, the state should be finding ways to support, not undermine, working households, he said. “An equitable recovery can only reach all Georgia workers through investments that provide a more robust safety net,” he said.

The changes especially hurt lower-wage workers of color and women, Khalfani said.

Butler said the rules are also changing for businesses that lay off workers. Employers are typically required to pay part of the jobless claims for workers who are laid off, but that obligation was suspended during the pandemic. Starting June 27, that waiver ends.

The Department of Labor has processed nearly 4.9 million initial claims for jobless benefits since the pandemic began.

Last week, there were 22,240 claims, down slightly from the previous week. Since autumn, they have been hovering between 20,000 and 30,000. Butler says 80% of the claims now are coming from people who have been out of work a year and are required to file again for benefits, and most of the rest are from people who have been fired or quit.

Average weekly unemployment claims in Georgia

November: 20,681

December: 25,585

January: 31,928

February: 28,188

March: 28,436

April: 33,288

May: 25,853

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Weekly unemployment claims in Georgia

Highest, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2009)

Highest, during pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 2020)

Last week 22,240

Sources: U.S. Employment and Training Administration, Georgia Department of Labor

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