Unemployment benefits: Answering your important questions

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 10:09 PM EDT
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Thursday, April 23, 2020

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Georgia Department of Labor processed nearly a quarter of a million unemployment claims just last week.

And with the majority of businesses in the state allowed to reopen, millions of people are wondering what that means for their benefits.

The Department of Labor has processed more unemployment claims in the past month than in the past three years. So, as people start to return to work, it has set up the system to allow people to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

Because of the pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp and the agency have increased the earnings exemption amount from $55 to $300.

The first $300 in wages per week is exempted for any kind of penalty toward your unemployment benefits. Any amount over $300 subtracts dollar for dollar from your state-allotted benefits.

How much can you make in a week and still collect state benefits and the federal $600 weekly supplement? It’s actually a simple formula.

You take your weekly state benefit, plus $300 and minus one.

"We did it specifically to help people make a lot more money as they’re easing back into work," state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.

Butler also says if your company is reopening but you aren’t comfortable going back to work yet or are working limited hours, you also can still collect benefits.

"There's nothing about what the governor said that has any force of law to make a company reopen. And if you’re not working, you still should be drawing unemployment," Butler said.

Things like having health concerns, being over the age of 60, or having a child at home to care for, are all legitimate reasons to not be able to return to work.

If you do return to work and have not yet gotten your benefits, Butler says you will still be paid for the time you weren’t working.

Will the money ever run out? Commissioner Butler says no.

"Right now, we’re sitting at $2.2 billion in our trust fund," he said. "You’re probably talking about six or seven months if we kept at the exact same rate we are sending out today."

And if people are in the same place in six or seven months, he says the agency will just get more money.

"A lot of people forget that during the recession, the trust fund actually did run out of money," Butler said. "All we have to is send a letter, make a phone call to the U.S. Treasury and we can start borrowing money."

For more answers to the most asked questions about unemployment, watch this news conference: LINK: VIDEO: Georgia Department of Labor Press Conference - 4/23

For those who are self-employed or private contractors, the agency has answers for you as well.

The agency is sending out emails in waves that will have information about how to fill out the new pandemic unemployment assistance application.

Those emails started going out last night to people who were denied state unemployment benefits but are eligible for federal assistance under the CARES Act.

According to the agency, once you fill out the application and it gets approved, you could start seeing payments in 48 to 72 hours.

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