Unemployment claims increase as many await federal help

A Texas server was gifted more than $2,000 after a customer didn't pay the substantial tip on a meal. (Mathieu Turle / Unsplash)
A Texas server was gifted more than $2,000 after a customer didn't pay the substantial tip on a meal. (Mathieu Turle / Unsplash)

Credit: Mathieu Turle / Unsplash

Credit: Mathieu Turle / Unsplash

New jobless claims jumped 65% in Georgia in the past week as the pandemic’s slow recovery stretched into 2021.

More than 31,000 people filed initial jobless claims for the week ending Jan. 2, joining roughly half-million people already out of work. The number of new claims is up from about 19,000 the week before.

Some will be getting help from a federal pandemic package passed by Congress last month.

About 167,000 Georgians had federal unemployment benefits extended because of the legislation. Also eligible to receive more federal payments are 239,000 who saw their benefits run out before Congress reached an agreement.

For those people, “We have to reopen their claims and the guidelines for them are different,” said Kersha Cartwright, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Labor. “We are still receiving those guidelines.”

Those rules are being set by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The new law also provides a $300-a-week federal subsidy to unemployed workers for 11 weeks.

Despite steady growth in the economy since late spring, layoffs continue for workers at businesses that require in-person contact with customers. Restaurants, bars, hotels and retail shops are still struggling.

But some companies are hiring. Truckers and warehouse workers are in demand, as are techies and health care workers.

“You give me a good CPA or programmer or software architect or nurse, and I will get them a job,” said Frank Green, chief executive at ExecuSource, an Atlanta-based staffing and recruiting company.

Still, many companies are reluctant to make a long-term bet, he said. “A lot of these are temporary positions — contract workers.”

In the past, as the economy has improved, temp jobs often turned into permanent jobs, he said. But, he added, “We are not seeing that happen except in technology.”

The Georgia Department of Labor has processed more than 4.2 million jobless claims since mid-March, some of them fraudulent but nearly half of them judged to be valid, according to the department.

People whose claims are rejected can appeal, and nearly 50,000 Georgians have appealed and are waiting for a final ruling, the department said.

Jodie Payne, 38, of Carroll County, said she has been waiting for benefits since she filed for unemployment in early August after losing her job as a school bus driver. She could have gone back to that job. But she did not want to return to a bus with scores of children because a close family member has underlying conditions that puts the person at high risk for a severe case of COVID-19, if infected.

Federal rules sometimes allow that kind of concern to trigger jobless benefits.

She said she was approved for those benefits, but has not received payments, she said.

“I am three months behind on rent,” she said. “The landlord is a retired preacher, but he’s getting aggravated and I completely understand.”

New weekly filings, jobless claims, Georgia

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

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

Average, Feb. 2019 to Feb. 2020: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 25,198

Total since Mar. 21, 2020: 4,223,296

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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