SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Yvonne Ciesla believes she’s among a group of forgotten Georgians, the ones who lost work due to the pandemic but are still trying to get the unemployment benefits owed to them.
“Our voices aren’t being heard so we stopped talking,” Ciesla told News 3.
She says she qualified for the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) program which was a federal program that provided money to those affected by the pandemic and who, in some cases, did not qualify for regular state unemployment payments.
While a federal program, PUA has been administered by the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL).
Ciesla says she did not qualify for any regular unemployment but that she initially did qualify for PUA. However, she says she never received the full weekly amount and then in August, her payments stopped altogether.
She told us she believes she is still owed more than $8,000 and has appealed to get the money but hasn’t heard when an appeal might be scheduled.
“The appeals process is a lengthy one at this time,” GDOL told News 3. “We are working to shorten the wait time, but there are a limited amount of staff that can perform appeals due to their complexity at times. We are continuing to answer phone calls, emails, and process claims 7 days a week.”
GDOL also said that weekly amounts for PUA and eligibility are based on information given by the claimant.
“If this information is not accurate, we will work to have it adjusted,” the department said. “We can only process claims based on the information provided.”
Ciesla says she will continue to pursue her appeal and believes there are many others in the same situation. She also says she hopes to start a job soon but is struggling to maintain.
“It’s just really been a wake-up call because I am ‘this close’ to losing everything,” she said. “I have no money for car insurance, so I am not driving and taking the bus.”
While GDOL says it has served literally millions of people since March when the pandemic began, and successfully processed millions of claims, Ciesla believes there are many like her who have not had their cases resolved and who are trying to survive
“I want the Department of Labor to be held accountable,” she said. “I believe they have failed us.”