SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – While the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) says it has processed millions of unemployment claims during the last 12 months of the pandemic, the agency has also faced criticism from thousands of frustrated applicants who said they waited, sometimes for months, for answers about their claims and benefits.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has now filed a lawsuit seeking data and information on how claims have been processed and why there have been delays, indicating that it is entitled to that information through the Georgia Open Records Law.

“We should be entitled to these records, in fact several of the requests should be data and information that the department of Labor keeps on file regularly anyway,” said Emily Early from SPLC’s Economic Justice Project. 

“I am certain that the Georgia Open Records Law is clear and that we are entitled to public records that fall within the act, even as a nonprofit organization we are a member of the public and we have the right to know what is happening.”

Early says they want to know why they are long delays for people to get an answer on their claims. The lawsuit says in the case of those awaiting appeals that the process often takes month and “without explanation”.

While GDOL says it has processed up to five million claims in the last year, Early says the legal action seeks more specifics.

“We want to understand why it is taking so long for people to get an answer on their claims and why the rate of denial is so high, I believe that Georgia may be number two in the rate of denials in unemployment claims across the nation,” she said.

“We want to understand what is happening and yes, the Department of Labor is experiencing a high increase in the number of unemployment insurance claims because of the pandemic and we understand that,” she said. “But it has been a year and we want to know what protocols have been put into place to help address any delays.”

GDOL said last week it was now in the process of implementing the new additional benefits program provided by the American Rescue Plan Act along with administering all the other programs.

The GDOL announced last week that Georgians have “received more than $19.6 billion (in state and federal benefits) since March 21 of 2020, more than the past 57 years prior to the pandemic combined.” GDOL has also told us in the past that not all processed claims are ultimately approved but they need to go over each claim made nonetheless.

Early says organizations they deal with continue to hear from some who people who never got benefits and are still trying but continue to be frustrated by not being able to call or get an email answered.

“So, I think the sheer inacessabiity of the Department of Labor has been very alarming considerring the great need that folks have been facing over the last year because of the pandemic,” said Early, ” We decided to file a lawsuit to force the Department’s compliance with the Open Records Law given the extreme delays that many people throughout Georgia have experienced.”

If GDOL believes that the group is not entitled to the data according to the law, Early says that has not been communicated to SPLC, which is why they took the legal action this week.