Georgia: $300-a-week jobless boost to be paid next week

A man uses his phone to copy phone numbers posted on the locked doors of a Georgia Department of Labor office Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Norcross Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (John Bazemore, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Many people collecting unemployment benefits in Georgia will get up to $1,800 in extra federal assistance over the next two weeks, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced Thursday.

The amount represents up to six weeks of $300-a-week emergency federal payments that President Donald Trump announced last month using $44 billion in federal disaster money. The Republican president announced the plan after an additional $600-a-week that was paid on top of other jobless benefits expired on Aug. 1

To be eligible, Georgia recipients must already be getting at least $100 a week in state benefits, or $149 a week in benefits from the special federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed, nonprofit and gig workers.

State Department of Labor spokesperson Kersha Cartwright said the state can’t yet estimate how many people will be paid the $300-a-week benefit or how much in total will be paid. There were 526,000 people collecting state benefits as of Aug. 29, and another 260,000 collecting the special pandemic assistance.

Georgia was approved for the federal money on Aug. 23, but had to program its computer system to pay the money.

Butler said the first three weeks of payments backdated to Aug. 1 and totaling up to $900, will be made early next week. The remaining three weeks of payments, for weeks through last Friday, will be made late next week.

Claimants should check their eligibility online. Those who have filed individually for regular state unemployment benefits will have to certify that they are unemployed or on reduced hours because of the pandemic.

“Although the six weeks of benefits wasn’t what many had hoped for, the additional support will make a big difference to some struggling to avoid eviction,” Butler said in a statement.

Because Georgia allows someone to earn up to $300 a week, plus $365 a week in state benefits, people getting the full $300 could make up to $965 a week with the extra federal money. But those making Georgia’s minimum benefit of $55 a week won’t be eligible. They tend to be people with low wages or who worked few hours.

Georgia has received more than 4 million claims for state and federal benefits since March, often overwhelming the understaffed department and prompting complaints from Democratic state lawmakers and those seeking benefits. Claims have fallen to about 50,000 a week, still high before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Georgia collects unemployment taxes from businesses to fund its state benefits, but that piggy bank, which stood above $2.5 billion in March, has run dry in recent days. The state has paid out all that amount, plus more than $10 billion in additional federal assistance since mid-March.

A U.S. Treasury Department website shows Georgia has already borrowed $62 million from the Treasury, one of 15 states that have so far borrowed $29.3 billion. Georgia is eligible to borrow interest-free because its reserves were relatively high before the pandemic.

Michelle Evermore, who tracks unemployment benefits for the National Employment Law Project, said she anticipates most states will have to borrow.

“Although state trust funds were in slightly better shape heading into this recession, the numbers were just so staggering that states couldn’t have anticipated this massive surge,” Evermore said.

After the Great Recession, Georgia cut the number of weeks it would pay benefits, in part to repay debt that peaked at $760 million in 2012. Those moves have been partially reversed in recent months.

“It did not take us long to pay back the money and build our trust fund...,” Butler said. “We will do the same this time.”