State labor officials say they’re handling unemployment claims quicker

First-Time Weekly Jobless Claims Fall in Georgia
First-Time Weekly Jobless Claims Fall in Georgia

State labor department officials released numbers Thursday that indicate Georgia is doing a better job of handling the flood of claims for unemployment benefits.

Though roughly 80,000 Georgians who have filed claims are waiting to see if they are eligible for benefits, the Georgia Department of Labor now handles about 1,500 of those reviews a day, said department spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright.

In August, the department could do only 900 reviews a day, she said.

Last week, 26,532 unemployment claims were processed, down 5,854 from the prior week. That’s nearly five times the average in pre-pandemic times.

“The challenges have been severe,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

Since the pandemic began, the department has faced criticism for being slow to handle claims, hear appeals and make payments to those who are eligible. Many jobless Georgians have complained of waiting months while bills pile up.

Officials acknowledge being unprepared for the tidal wave of claims. When the pandemic began, the labor department’s staff was half the size that it was a decade earlier, during the Great Recession.

About 4.4 million claims have been processed since mid-March, with more than 1.4 million of them deemed valid. Of those, 95% of the claimants have begun receiving benefits, the department said.

“We have devised creative strategies to make this process easier and faster,” Butler said. “We have issued payments to almost half of Georgia’s workforce in the past 10 months while addressing an incredible amount of fraud.”

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 43% of Georgians applying for benefits received payment within a week, if no additional review was needed. That’s compared to a national average of 29%.

About 450,000 Georgians are currently receiving some unemployment benefits.

While Georgia has added jobs every month since April, the state is still about 93,200 jobs below its pre-pandemic level.

Weekly jobless claims, Georgia

Worst, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2010)

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

Average, pre-pandemic: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 28,537

Total since Mar. 21: 4,441,396

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration


Georgia weekly jobless claims

Week ending

Jan. 2: 31,458

Jan. 9: 37,039

Jan. 16: 35,912

Jan. 23: 28,016

Jan. 30: 27,215

Feb. 6: 32,386

Feb. 13: 26,532

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration