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Agencies across the two-state battle backlog of unemployment claims

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 4:45 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Unemployment claims are backlogged in both South Carolina and Georgia as the numbers are easily surpassing the amount in past history because of the coronavirus pandemic. Agencies are just trying to manage the increasing numbers.

There's no line at the door of unemployment agencies, but it's busier than ever. Since March 21, there have been more than 1.3 million initial claims in Georgia. And in South Carolina, there have been more than 400,000 in recent weeks.

"At the height of this, you could have 200,000 people calling a day," Mark Butler, Georgia Commissioner of Labor, said. "But, even when we have 10,000 people calling a day, you still only have 1,000 employees statewide."

Butler says they went from 20,000 claims a month -- to a million filed in one month.

"Our staffing and our funding is based on claim level, and before this all started we were at record low claim levels coming in," he said.

The process takes weeks to teach someone new, so they've hired recent retirees from their offices to help.

Georgia officials say employer-filed claims are quicker, taking about seven days. Individual claims, in a perfect scenario, take three to four weeks.

Around 240,000 are still waiting -- most have errors or require more info.

"Our big struggle right now is getting in touch with those individuals, or them getting in touch with us," Butler said. "If you don’t claim those weeks of actually being unemployed, payments will not go out."

Payments weren't going out to those self-employed, until two weeks ago.

"All 50 states have had to come up with ways to process these. We’ve had to have our IT folks actually build an application system," Butler said.

Both Georgia and South Carolina agencies say they are catching up.

"They are currently working seven days a week. People say, ‘Well, you guys are closed on the weekends?’ No. ‘You guys going home at four?’ No," Butler said.

Some staff are working seven days a week, and 12 hours a day to get money to those who need it.

The backlog is getting shorter, but patience isn't easy when there's no paycheck.

As for the Department of Labor, they say opening up their offices won't improve the situation. Their system operates the same way online, and the lines in offices would cause safety issues.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

Unemployment across the two-state has begun to tick upward as thousands of workers seek aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On top of state benefits, unemployed workers are entitled to an additional $600 weekly benefit from the federal government. 

So what do you do if you’ve suddenly found yourself unemployed?

In South Carolina: Workers in South Carolina who are seeking unemployment benefits must first see if they are eligible for benefits. 

MORE | How to see if I am eligible for benefits in South Carolina

Those requirements include: 

Situational Requirements:

  1. You’re unemployed. (If you currently work less than full time due to being out of work and earn less than your weekly benefit amount, you’re still considered unemployed. When filing your weekly claim, report all work you performed and wages earned that week. Continue to seek full-time work.)

  2. It was not your fault you lost your job from your most recent employer. 

  3. You're able to work.

  4. You’re available for work and willing to take any suitable offer.

  5. You report to your local comprehensive SC Works center as required.

  6. You must actively search for suitable work each week that you file a weekly certification for unemployment insurance benefits. Suitable work includes any trade, occupation, or business in which you are qualified based on your training or experience, and which pays at least 90% of your previous salary during your first eight paid weeks of unemployment and 75% of your previous salary after eight paid weeks of unemployment.

  7. You must complete at least two (2) work searches through SC Works Online Services (jobs.scworks.org) each week that you file a certification. 

Monetary Requirements

To be monetarily eligible for UI benefits, you must:

  1. Have at least $1,092 in covered employment (with an employer who paid UI taxes) during the base period’s* highest quarter.

  2. Have earned at least $4,455 from covered employment during the base period*.

  3. Have total base period* wages that are equal to, or exceed, 1.5 times the high quarter wages’ total.

Then, you can file for unemployment benefits using South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce website. 

MORE | Apply for benefits on the SCDEW website

In Georgia: Workers in Georgia affected by COVID-19 unemployment can start at the Department of Labor’s special COVID-19 website. 

MORE | Access the Department of Labor’s COVID-19 website

What if I need to call? Officials on both sides of the river are stressing not to call unless it’s a question that cannot be answered using the department websites and other available methods.

What kind of backlog is there? Both agencies have been dealing with a large backlog of claims due to the thousands more workers filing for benefits. 

In South Carolina, the agency ran a comparison of initial claims during the Great Recession versus current volume with the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the results are staggering. At the peak of the Great Recession, the largest week for initial claims was in April 2009, with 13,848 initial claims filed. The peak experienced to date with the COVID-19 pandemic is 87,686 claims in a one-week period. You can reach the call center at 1-866-831-1724.

In Georgia, the Department of Labor hotline is 1-866-598-4164.