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Tightening of jobless aid looms in Georgia, South Carolina

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Georgians and South Carolinians receiving unemployment benefits will once again be required to look for work and will be able to earn less before unemployment payments drop.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced Thursday that the changes will begin June 27.

Georgia announced last month that it’s cutting off federal programs providing a $300-a-week boost to jobless benefits. It’s also withdrawing from federal programs that pay people ineligible for state unemployment.

And in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the termination of South Carolina’s participation in all federal, pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs, a change that will go into effect on June 30.

Butler says Georgia employers with many laid-off workers collecting benefits will face higher unemployment taxes after the changes take effect in the Peach State.

It’s a further tightening of unemployment assistance.

Butler, McMaster and other elected Republican leaders in the two-state region say they need to push more people toward work, claiming many people are making more money off unemployment benefits than they would be by working.

As a result, many companies are facing a labor shortage, a problem nationwide.

Meanwhile, some Georgians are frustrated by the continued closure of Department of Labor offices as they struggle to get the unemployment benefits they’ve been seeking for months.

Butler says the department is planning to reopen offices, but he wasn’t able to give an exact date. However, he wants Georgians to realize that local offices of his agency are career centers that help with re-employment.

This means many of the unemployment issues that some are trying to get resolved won’t get resolved at the local offices.

For example, if you’re waiting on an appeal hearing or eligibility review, Butler says that’s not done at the office. It’s done over the phone.

What you can do when the offices reopen is get help getting back into the workforce.

As for why the career centers are not open yet when the GDOL is focusing on re-employment, Butler says there are a few reasons. One is those in the the agency’s re-employment division are still assisting with the unemployment division.

And lastly, Butler says the department continues to have security concerns at local offices.

“We’ve had reports of our employees being followed from their car, people taking pictures of them as they’re going from their car and posting those things online. They have received threatening emails, and of course, that’s been going on for a year. A lot of it is from individuals who are just not qualified for unemployment and are angry about it,” Butler said.

Butler also says it is possible some career centers will remain closed, as many re-employment services can be found online at employgeorgia.com.

Also in the news ...

  • South Carolina employment officials say they received the lowest number of weekly initial unemployment claims since the pandemic began. That marks the fourth week in a row that the state recorded a new low in first-time claims since mid-March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the week ending Saturday, the state received 1,887 initial claims for unemployment, 85 claims fewer than the week before. The previous week’s 1,972 claims marked the first time since the pandemic began that the total dropped below 2,000. Allendale County was the only county in the state to report no claims.
  • The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the sixth straight week. Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a near-standstill in March 2020, weekly applications were regularly coming in below 220,000. Nearly 3.5 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.

From reports by The Associated Press, WRDW/WAGT, WTOC and WCSC