ATLANTA - The nation’s unemployment rate is still above 10 percent. But Georgia is faring much better at around seven percent unemployment. But still, that’s a hardship for many people.
I sat down and talked one-on-one with the Georgia Department of Labor commissioner and asked why applicants are still waiting on benefits. Here's what I heard.
According to Commissioner Mark Butler, 92 percent of the claims have been processed to a final result, but there’s that hanging eight percent that got some bad press recently. These are people who have applied for benefits who say they are still awaiting answers.
The first thing Commissioner Butler wants you to know is that his employees are front-line heroes. You can’t see them face to face right now, but they are working, he said, 12-hour days, some seven days a week.
"There is nothing you can’t do online or over the phone that you can do in person. Everything has been digitized, and we are adding more and more features. In fact, I’m very proud of our IT department. But, basically, they’ve done two and a half years of IT development in five months."
So who is this eight percent of Georgians filing claims still waiting to get paid?
"Actually, all of them have been processed that’s why they are still in the position they are at. But now there is something they have done in their application that has caused it to go to a different level of review," he told me via a Zoom interview.
These are the top reasons a claim can move more slowly. They need the human touch, not just a computer.
TOP REASONS FOR UI APPLICATIONS STILL IN LIMBO
- APPLICANT CLERICAL ERRORS
- IDENTIFICATION ISSUES
- FRAUD ATTEMPTS
- FIRED WITH CAUSE
- QUIT JOB WITHOUT VALID REASON
There are basic errors in the application, like the employer inputting the wrong dates. IDs are often inaccurate. Perhaps your employer still has your maiden name on file, but you are filing with your married name. Fraud is on fire right now. This gums up the system. And too often claimants aren’t qualified to receive unemployment. They were either fired with cause or quit their job without a valid reason. And everyone of these cases must be processed, even if ineligible, the commissioner said.
"During a typical month you only have to maybe take a look at 10,000 claims a month that somebody would have to look at. But now, because of the pandemic and very large number of claims, you multiply that by 1,000."
The good news for the employment picture is that in July as the $600 federal unemployment supplement ended, Georgia added 55,000 jobs.
"Even if you took both years of the recession, '08 and '09," the commissioner said thinking back, "You can take all those numbers for the two years, it doesn’t even come close to what we are doing right now."
In five months the Georgia Dept. of labor has paid out $12.5 billion dollars.
The claims have been cooling off since July when the $600 federal unemployment check stopped. This coincided with Georgia reopening the economy faster than the rest of the nation.