By Itoro N. Umontuen | The Atlanta Voice
The State of Georgia will end their involvement with the federally-expanded unemployment benefit program Saturday, with the move affecting more than 165,000 Georgians.
Georgia, like 21 other Republican-led states, declared it was withdrawing from some or all of the programs early. Governor Brian P. Kemp made the announcement May 13th. Also, nine other states are ending benefits by the end of this week.
“During truly unprecedented times, hardworking Georgians have stayed resilient, and businesses of all sizes have quickly adapted to an unpredictable environment,” said Governor Kemp in a prepared statement May 13th. “Even in the middle of a global pandemic, job growth and economic development in Georgia remained strong – including an unemployment rate below the national average. To build on our momentum, accelerate a full economic recovery, and get more Georgians back to work in good-paying jobs, our state will end its participation in the federal COVID-19 unemployment programs, effective June 26th. As we emerge from this pandemic, Georgians deserve to get back to normal – and today’s announced economic recovery plan will help more employees and businesses across our state do so.”
Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told reporters enough was enough after he received complaints from employers currently having issues with finding potential help.
“It’s time to go back to work,” Butler said Thursday. “We can’t keep going down this road forever.”
In addition, Georgia is reinstating the requirement that unemployment beneficiaries prove they are actively looking for a new job each week. That means registering with the state’s online system.
Opponents have said Georgia’s Department of Labor has been inefficient with the processing of claims throughout the pandemic. Four Georgia residents and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have sued the state’s Labor Department, citing delays in processing, paying and hearing appeals on unemployment claims violate state and federal law.
The suit argues Butler’s actions violate state law because it requires that determinations and payments be made “promptly.” It also argues that the limbo violates the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.
“State and federal law guarantee certain promptness and due process rights to plaintiffs, and all other members of the classes that plaintiffs seek to represent,” the attorneys said in the lawsuit. “Repeatedly and systematically, the GDOL has violated those rights – failing to make prompt determinations regarding unemployment benefits, failing to provide prompt appeal hearings of those determinations, and failing to make payments that are undeniably due.”
Butler said the lawsuit is “politically motivated.”
While the State of Georgia moves forward with ending federal unemployment benefits, Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project issued a statement rebuking the move:
“Contrary to the popular belief of our state leaders, Georgians are still recovering from the pandemic, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Almost 350,000 people will be affected when the state government rejects millions of dollars of relief for workers just trying to make ends meet. Cutting off pandemic unemployment insurance is an incredibly immoral decision with enormous consequences for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic and continue to rely on those benefits for basic needs.
It also ignores the needs of those who need to stay home due to virus concerns or caregiving responsibilities for elderly relatives or children. This unemployment insurance provided critical security to vulnerable Georgians, especially Black and Latinx communities,who felt the brunt of the pandemic the hardest. We need leaders who support the hard working people of Georgia, which is why the federal government needs to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation, like the For The People Act, so we can elect leaders who share our values.”
Georgia’s unemployment rate is 4.1%, compared to 4.30% last month and 9.40% last year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.