Georgia: Jobless must soon seek work to keep benefits

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)
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) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Georgia’s elected labor commissioner said he intends to reinstate the requirement that people must actively search for work to receive unemployment benefits “in the next few months.”

Republican Mark Butler didn’t say exactly when the job search requirement would return. Butler said this week that those getting benefits would get notice of the change.

A mix of other states including Kentucky, Vermont and Montana have made similar rulings in recent weeks. Georgia and most other states suspended job search requirements to cut down on COVID-19 exposure, making an exception to the usual rule that people have to prove they’re looking for work.

Butler said his department is shifting its focus from paying benefits to encouraging them to find new jobs. He said employers have 240,000 jobs listed with the state, and that the department provides job search assistance, career counseling and skills testing.

“I hear every day from employers who have been forced to reduce business hours, refuse large deliveries, and turn down economic opportunities due to the simple fact that they did not have the staff to support them,” Butler said in a statement.

He said hotels and restaurants have particularly critical labor needs. Some officials and business owners have called for ending a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, saying it allows too many workers to afford to stay home. However, defenders of the measure say the labor market is still disrupted by COVID-19, particularly because mothers may be staying home with children attending school remotely or with younger children for whom they can’t find child care.

Georgia had a 4.5% unemployment rate in March. Its labor force of 5.16 million was about 44,000 fewer than before the pandemic.

Georgia’s unemployment claims, although they have fallen, remain at elevated levels compared to before the coronavirus pandemic.

About 25,000 Georgians filed new unemployment claims in the week ended May 1, and about 140,000 people are receiving traditional unemployment benefits from the state insurance program. Another 127,000 Georgians were getting special federal unemployment assistance available to people who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, or employees of churches and nonprofits.

Georgia’s rules call for people to make three job search contacts a week, including registering online with EmployGeorgia.com, applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, registering with employment agencies or doing work-related networking.

Butler, who is up for re-election in 2022, has faced bipartisan criticism over complaints that many people have been denied benefits or have struggled to get help solving problems. Butler defends his agency’s performance.