July 16, 2020 – Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties remain hard hit by unemployment, despite efforts by local businesses to reopen. 

Since the week of March 28, when the initial flood of initial unemployment claims started to slam the Georgia Dept. of Labor (GDOL) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of companies, Chatham County residents have filed a total of 105,792 claims.  However, the DOL states that about half of the claims filed are not able to be paid, for various reasons, primarily that the person had not earned enough in wages to receive benefits. At that rate, about 50,000 residents of Chatham County have filed for and received needed unemployment assistance.

The Federal additional $600 per week payments under the CARES Act ends this week, aid going to previously employed individuals who were furloughed or permanently laid off as of March 24.  

The highest week for initial claims was the week of April 4 in Chatham County when 15,293 people filed.  But, over the last two weeks of July, the DOL reports that more than 3,000 people are still being added to the unemployment rolls in Chatham:  3,036 filed the week of July 4, and 3,582 filed the week of July 11. 

In Effingham County, approx. 500 people have filed new claims per week over the past six weeks.  In Bryan County, approx. 400 are filing initial claims per week since the first of June, on top of the staggering numbers of people who filed in both counties in April and May.  Many residents of Effingham and Bryan counties work in Chatham County tourism and other other industries. 

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) announced today it has processed over three million claims since the middle of March. Of the 3,085,261 claims, 1.4 million proved valid to pay. The invalid claims could potentially be duplicate filed claims or those without enough earned wages to receive benefits. 1,262,381 applicants have requested a payment and 1,148,617 have received benefits – 91 percent of claimants with a valid claim.

Across the state, the GDOL announced a June unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, a decrease of 5 percentage points since April.  Georgia’s June unemployment rate was 3.5 percentage points lower than the national rate of 11.1 percent.

June 2020 labor statistics indicated over-the-month increases for the labor force, employment, and jobs. The labor force was up by 31,100 people and the number of employed people showed an increase of 118,100. The number of jobs increased 150,200. This represents an increase of 250,000 over the last two months. The sectors with the most monthly job gains included Accommodation and Food Services, Retail Trade, and Administrative and Support Services. In May and June, 50 percent of the total jobs lost in April were gained back.

“The increase in June in all the major job market indicators reveals a recovering economy,” said Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler.  “The drop in the unemployment rate is a strong signal that we are moving toward getting Georgians back to work.”

Payments last week totaled $918,929,935 in regular weekly state unemployment benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) payments, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplements, and State Extended Benefits.  Since March 21, almost $9.5 billion has been paid to eligible Georgians in unemployment benefits.

However, last week claims were up 34,862 from the week prior for a total of 138,452 for week ending 7/11.  Initial claims normally spike after the week of July 4, but the sharp increase in claims has prompted an increase in fraud investigations, according to the DOL.

“We are reviewing each claim to ensure the integrity of our system and to uncover fraud,” said Commissioner Butler. “Many states have seen sharp increases in claims numbers leading to the uncovering of large fraud rings and individual fraudulent claims that led to criminal charges and prosecution.”

The GDOL actively reviews and blocks moderate to critical threat actors on a daily basis.  Encryption is used for transmission and external and internal systems are routinely scanned for vulnerability. Multi-agency verification assists in identification of applicants and a consistent review of banking information helps to detect bank fraud.

The number of initial unemployment claims filed throughout the United States for the week ending 7/11 was 1,300,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's revised level of 1,310,000.

Last week, the GDOL issued nearly $120 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments to individuals who are self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, employees of churches, employees of non-profits, or those with limited work history who do not qualify for state unemployment benefits. From week ending 3/21/2020 through 7/11/2020, 300,666 PUA claims have been validated. Of the valid PUA claims eligible for payment where a request for payment has been made, 89 percent have been issued payment.

In addition, the total federal funds issued to Georgians for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) totaled over $644 million last week. Over the past 17 weeks, the GDOL has issued more than $6.5 billion in FPUC funds. FPUC provides an additional $600 weekly payment to an individual eligible for any of the unemployment compensation programs – state and federal. The FPUC program is scheduled to end with the week ending July 25, 2020.

From week ending 3/21/2020 through 7/11/2020, the sectors with the most regular UI initial claims processed included Accommodation and Food Services, 748,266, Health Care and Social Assistance, 365,728, Retail Trade, 341,852, Administrative and Support Services, 259,218, and Manufacturing, 237,229.

The GDOL implemented State Extended Benefits (SEB) after meeting a federal unemployment rate threshold, adding an additional 20 weeks of unemployment eligibility for potential claimants.

As of 7/14/2020, the trust fund balance was $815,108,865, down $1.732 billion, or 68 percent, from the 3/24/2020 balance of $2,547,476,454.

Today, over 119,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia.com for Georgians to access. The GDOL offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.  At this time, GDOL career centers are remaining closed to the public, but all online services are still available as the staff continues to answer calls, process claims, respond to customer inquiries, and provide assistance to applicants.

The GDOL will reopen offices to the public as soon as social distancing can be effectively implemented to protect both staff and customers.

Information on filing an unemployment claim, details on how employers can file partial claims, and resources for other reemployment assistance can be found on the agency’s webpage at dol.georgia.gov.

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