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Initial unemployment claims up in Georgia along with uncertainty over new COVID-19 relief
Georgia Department of Labor
The Georgia Department of Labor offers state residents the opportunity to apply for unemployment benefits when in need. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

ATLANTA – First-time unemployment claims increased in Georgia last week as the state Department of Labor began working to implement the new economic stimulus package Congress passed this week.

Initial unemployment claims totaled 26,673 last week, up 2,971 from the work before, the labor department reported Thursday.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler warned that fully implementing the provisions of the new bill will be slow going, and that’s if President Donald Trump even signs it into law. Trump is threatening to veto it because it includes $600 weekly stimulus checks for Americans rather than the $2,000 checks he supports.

“Some of the provisions included in the bill should be able to be implemented fairly quickly,” Butler said Thursday. “However, most of the new additions in the bill are going to take a substantial amount of time due to their very complicated nature.

“These new enhancements could take months of system development to implement along with the other changes that we will have to program.”

If the president does not sign the bill, all federal unemployment insurance programs created last March as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will end on New Year’s Eve. The last week payable ends on Dec. 26 for individual-filed claims and on Dec. 30 for employer-filed claims.

If Trump does sign the legislation, federal guidelines must be established by the U.S. Department of Labor before states can determine the timeline for delivering the benefits to Georgians. The guidelines are not expected before the first of the year.

Even before the uncertainty over the new stimulus bill, unemployed Georgians have been complaining over delays in processing claims under the current system, with the labor department overwhelmed with an unprecedented number of claims sparked by the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

“We’re seeing incredible delays with making determinations on claims,” Lisa Krisher, director of advocacy for Georgia Legal Services, said this week during a hearing held by the state House Democratic Caucus’ Subcommittee on COVID-19. “You can’t get anyone on the phone at the labor department to explain what’s going on.”

Krisher said the online appointment scheduling system the labor department set up during the fall has helped some, but claimants still are having a hard time getting answers when their claims are delayed or denied.

Since the pandemic exploded in Georgia last March, the labor agency has paid out more than $16.6 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits to nearly 4.2 million Georgians, more than the last nine years combined.

During the week ending Dec. 18, the job sector accounting for the most initial unemployment claims in Georgia was accommodation and food services with 6,941 claims. The administrative and support services sector was next with 2,880 claims, followed closely by manufacturing with 2,481.

More than 161,000 jobs are listed online at for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.