As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Georgians are still out of work with no end in sight. As of December 2020, the U.S. unemployment rate is 6.7% and Georgia’s is 5.6%, down from 5.7% in November and a high of 12.6% in April. The initial economic shutdown and persisting effects on businesses caused a 254.7% increase in statewide unemployment insurance initial claims from 2019, putting the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to the test.
“We had a system that was built for 3% unemployment rate when all of this started — much lower than what we’re dealing with now,” Kersha Cartwright, GDOL Director of Communications, said.
Extreme delays in the system and flawed communication channels have caused thousands to go without unemployment benefits for months, with some Georgians losing their homes. 25% of UI claims take up to 70 days to be approved as eligible for benefits. Then once considered eligible, 86% of claims take for than 50 days for benefits to be paid out.
In January 2021, six Georgians brought a case against GDOL and Commissioner Mark Butler, citing delays in processing applications, determining eligibility, paying benefits and setting appeal hearings. The plaintiffs argue that the GDOL are failing to fulfill their duty to “promptly” perform these tasks, and seek to compel the department and Commissioner to comply.
Prior to the lawsuit, the commissioner addressed some of these concerns, saying “You could have a multitude of reasons why someone is waiting but the majority of the ones we are seeing right now, and the one that were presenting on Monday at this so-called hearing, all of those were either quits or fires or just plain not eligible.”
The plaintiffs include struggling Georgians who have not received their payments under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, were denied unemployment benefits, have gone months without eligibility determinations and appeals hearings and have done it all with little communication from GDOL. They are being represented by the Atlanta LeLegal Aid Society, Inc., Georgia Legal Services Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
 Georgia Department of Labor, Workforce Statistics & Economic Research Unemployment Insurance Initial Claims Report, https://dol.georgia.gov/current-labor-force-data-and-graphs