ATLANTA - More than 165,000 Georgians will make one more claim this week for expanded unemployment benefits before the program ends on Saturday.
Georgia could keep using federal funding to pay the benefits through Sept. 6. But like 21 other Republican-led states, Georgia announced it was withdrawing from some or all of the programs early. Nine other states are ending benefits by the end of this week.
In addition to the special unemployment benefits, Georgia is also quitting the special $300-a-week federal supplement that goes to everyone drawing jobless benefits, which also goes to another 56,000 people getting regular state unemployment benefits.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Gov. Brian Kemp say the moves are needed because they’re hearing from employers who are having trouble finding workers. They say the federal benefits mean businesses have to compete with relatively high pay to remain on unemployment.
"It’s time to go back to work," Butler said Thursday. "We can’t keep going down this road forever."
But a group of Georgia disagrees with Kemp and Butler's assessment, protesting in front of the Department of Labor's office Friday.
"Unemployment insurance was designed to be a safety net for Americans, and we are asking for reform," laid-off flight attendant Nicole Fears said.
Federal data shows that private-sector job openings and firms unable to fill jobs were at record levels in May, as was the rate at which people were voluntarily quitting jobs, presumably to move to a job they liked better. But a relatively low share of the prime working-age population is currently working, and some people are still stuck working part-time who would like more hours.
Butler said he will judge the success of the move if more people enter the labor force and more people get jobs in coming months. He says he’s not trying to be punitive.
"I want them all to be successful," Butler said. "I want them all to get good jobs."
Georgia is also reinstating the requirement that unemployment beneficiaries prove they are actively looking for a new job. That means registering with the state’s online system. But Butler said it appears few new people have registered in recent weeks.
However, the group protesting Friday argued that part of the reason of the lack of new registrations is due to the system Georgia has in place that includes delays in processing and payments.
Currently, four Georgia residents are suing the state's Department of Labor, saying delays in processing, paying and hearing appeals on unemployment claims violate state and federal law.
The suit argues Butler is violating state law that requires that determinations and payments be made "promptly." It also argues that the limbo violates the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.
"The process of applying for unemployment has been just disastrous for all Americans. We're calling for reform. We need Congress to step up to the plate," Frears said.
Others say there’s no proof that that people are staying out of the labor market because of the enhanced benefits. Andrew Stettner, who studies unemployment for the Century Foundation, said the number of jobless claimaints is falling even as benefits have continued.
"Too many leaders continue to peddle the myth that unemployment benefits are ‘paying people not to work,’" Stettner said. "But the reality is that unemployment benefits are provided to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and ought to last until workers can find new jobs — which millions have already done in 2021."
Georgia business groups, though, have welcomed the end of the benefits. Nathan Humphrey, the Georgia director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said earlier this month that many businesses are operating at reduced capacity because they can’t find enough people to work.
"The people who are standing up saying the unemployment benefits have nothing to do with this problem, they have their head in the sand," Butler said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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