Delays in unemployment benefits still plague the jobless in Georgia
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Thousands of Georgians are unemployed because of the pandemic and are still waiting on benefits.
Has the Georgia Department of Labor made any changes to help solve the issue?
The office has hired more employees, but one Georgia residents says you would never know based on how long he’s been waiting for his payment.
Christmas morning will look different for Terren Williams, his wife and two kids. Just a few gifts under the tree, as this year was full of many sacrifices for the family after Williams was laid off in July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve sold pretty much everything that we have that can be sold. We’ve had to...we’ve had to really get desperate,” Williams said.
Williams said he was receiving benefits when his employer filed for him, but then he was notified his employer was going to stop filing on his behalf. He called the GDOL office and was told he’d have to file an individual claim, and that’s when things took a turn.
Williams’ account was flagged for fraud, so he confirmed his identity on the GDOL’s ID.Me tool. Still, no payments and no contact from the Department of Labor.
Like many unemployed Georgians, Williams was desperate for answers. Spending hours on the phone to reach an agent.
“Their voicemail says ‘We care. We care about you. We value you,’ but that’s not what it’s saying,” Williams said.
He even downloaded a phone app that schedules and sends emails automatically.
Williams tried to be patient but says there was a lot of frustration.
“I know you’re inundated, but just hire more people. You got to make it happen,” he said.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says the office is hiring people, but it’s difficult.
Butler says the starting pay is less than what people are getting for unemployment, so not many people want to apply. Also, they’re not having luck with temp agencies.
“We had one temp agency that we brought on that brought 40 people to help us, and then within about four weeks, we lost half of them because they said the work was too stressful and too hard,” Butler said.
According to GDOL, around 350 people worked in the unemployment department before the pandemic. That number is now around 1,000. When asked if there was anything the department could do to make the process move faster, Butler responded, “Well, I mean, we’re doing everything that we can do. You’re hiring more people. You’re having more people doing the different tasks, and different ways to get in touch with us.”
Butler said there is no backlog in processing claims.
“Since April 1, there’s been 170,000 appeals filed and 130,000 of those appeals are not even an appealable thing,” Butler said.
Appeals can only be filed when there’s a discrepancy with the reason of separation between the claimant and employer.
Each appeal, valid or not, must be looked at manually by an agent, which can hold other claims up.
Butler says, in addition, some people might not receive payments because they didn’t finish the ID.Me process or aren’t claiming for unemployment online.
“Just a few weeks ago, there was about 40,000 people that had been approved for unemployment, here in the state of Georgia, that could be getting it and they had not certified for one week,” Butler said.
GDOL was asked to investigate why Williams’ payments stopped. The spokeswoman says his account is now being looked at by the integrity unit but expects payments to be released.
It’s welcome news for Williams, but he knows many Georgians are still struggling heading into the new year.
“When your hands are tied, there’s not a lot you can do,” Williams said.
Commissioner Butler says he keeps Gov. Brian Kemp updated about the issues the office continues to face. WTOC reached out to the governor’s office, he says he knows GDOL was overwhelmed with unemployment claims when the pandemic first started, but believes the office has handled the issue well.
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