ATLANTA – First-time unemployment claims in Georgia fell last week, mirroring a decline in claims at the national level.
Jobless Georgians filed 24,553 initial claims last week, down 888 from the week before, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.
Meanwhile, the department was being forced to deal with growing cases of fraud among the more than 60,000 Georgians thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago who have refiled for payments for a second year.
“A high number of claimants who have applied for their second year of benefits … have been found to possibly be committing fraud,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday.
“Couple those investigations with the majority of recently filed claims failing to verify their identity and we are left manually sifting through a myriad of fraudulent claims searching for the small percentage that are actually valid.”
Butler’s remarks came one day after Democrats in Georgia’s congressional delegation sent the commissioner a letter demanding that the labor department share its plan for addressing a claims backlog.
“While factors such as initial understaffing and limited technology may have prevented [the department] from processing claims, after a year there still remain extensive questions on how the agency plans to identify solutions to address the serious backlog that currently exists,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Buford.
“Georgians are lawfully entitled to the benefits they applied for. They are also entitled to transparency and accountability from their government. It’s time for answers – and solutions.”
The backlog of unemployment claims also drew a response from the Republican-controlled General Assembly during this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers passed a bill calling for the state to hire a chief labor officer to work with Butler on resolving the backlog.
However, Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed the measure, arguing it would have interfered with the commissioner’s constitutional authority as a statewide elected official and failed to delineate a way to resolve conflicts between the commissioner and chief labor officer.
The labor department has processed more than 4.8 million first-time unemployment claims since March of last year, more than during the last 10 years prior to the pandemic, while paying out more than $21.8 billion in state and federal jobless benefits.
The job sector accounting for the most initial claims last week was accommodation and food services with 5,140 claims. The administrative and support services sector was next with 2,033 claims, followed by manufacturing with 1,460.
More than 234,000 jobs are listed on the labor department’s EmployGeorgia website.
Claimants are being urged to register with EmployGeorgia to avoid interruptions in their payments. Video tutorials on how to register are available at https://employgeorgia.com.