GA Department of Labor weighing changes to state’s unemployment insurance

Georgia State Capitol Building

ByWright Gazaway|March 25, 2020 at 3:27 PM EDT - Updated March 25 at 3:27 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A lot of you are concerned and wondering how you’ll pay your bills as many businesses close their doors. A non-partisan group in Georgia is recommending big changes to state leaders that put more money in the pockets of unemployed people for longer.

The state is seeing unemployment claims jump as emergency orders shut down many businesses across the state.The Governor and Department of Labor commissioneralready made changes for people who are temporarily laid off or had hours cut.

“I applaud those changes; I think that they came at the perfect time, definitely designed to ease access to unemployment insurance,” Alex Camardelle, a senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institutetracks how state money is spent and how policies impact Georgians. In short, they want the state to extend unemployment benefits and widen the net for who qualifies.

Camardelleoutlined 5 recommendationsto the Department of Labor to go further on unemployment insurance.

First, he wants the state to move emergency funding to pay for increased staffing to handle the increase in unemployment claims. The institute also wants Georgians to be able to receive unemployment for 26 weeks. Currently, the state caps it at 14. Third, they’re asking the DOL to waive all work-search requirements for unemployment. That’s where people have to prove they’re looking for work. This has already been done for people applying for unemployment after March 14th.

Fourth, Camardelle wants the state to relax the earnings threshold to include low-wage earners. The last recommendation is that the state allow contract workers like bus drivers to access benefits.

"We’re proposing these changes because we want Georgia to be able to draw down all of the federal aid that was approved for our state, while also making sure that everybody who is eligible for unemployment insurance and is going to be needing help landing on their feet over the next few months is able to access the program,” Camardelle said.

A state spokesperson with the GDOL said they’re working on an extension for unemployment benefits past 14 weeks right now. The state is also working on allowing low-wage earners to get larger weekly checks. Contract workers are also encouraged to file given the new rules and expanded benefits.

"My hope is that we be expeditiously responsive to the folks who are impacted the most, and those are those low-wage workers,” Camardelle said.

For now, the state is not waiving the work-search requirement because the state’semployment platformis still seeing jobs posted and people can fulfill the requirements online, according to the agency spokesperson. The department is also waiting on guidance to move emergency funding to meet the higher demand.

Photo: Getty Images

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