SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell nationwide, as well as in Georgia and South Carolina, last week.

The numbers may be headed in the right direction but millions of people are still in need of benefits.

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) even reported a record in terms of benefits paid out in a one week period. It said $857 million in regular state and federal unemployment was paid out during the week preceding Independence Day.

Officials said that’s about three times the amount paid out in 2019.

“We are paying more Georgians more benefits than we ever have before,” said Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “No one would have imagined in the same year we experienced our lowest monthly number of claims since 1975 that we would pay almost three years’ worth of benefits in one week.”

Claims in Georgia dropped by about 12,000 as compared to the previous week and the Department of Labor says, currently, more than 90 percent of all claimants eligible for benefits are receiving them.

Still, News 3 continues to hear from people who say they have filed and been told they qualify but they have waited for several months without ever getting a check.

“Our staff continues to focus daily on unpaid claims, resolving as many of these issues as possible,” said Butler in a press release. He said not everyone is eligible for benefits and it is the state’s responsibility to determine who is eligible.

“Sometimes these claims are challenging and require research and attention greatly increasing the time it takes to find resolution,” said Butler.

Thursday morning, several Democratic lawmakers held a phone media conference to talk about the pandemic and its effects in Georgia. They blasted President Donald Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp for what they termed a slow response to the pandemic, which they said has made the economic fallout worse.

They also answered our questions about what they are hearing from constituents about the unemployment filing process.

“I talked to a woman yesterday who’s been waiting 14 weeks, people are really suffering, ” said Rep. Mary Frances Williams of Marietta.

Nikema Williams, who is a Georgia State Senator and also the chairwoman for Georgia’s Democratic Party, told News 3 she is trying to help constituents resolve issues “to send over to the Department of Labor to be a voice for constituents.”

“Whatever is happening right now is not working,” she added.

Williams said early on in the pandemic, they were told by GDOL that much of the issue was due to the overwhelming numbers of people filing claims coupled with their own staffing levels, and in some cases, the inability to bring on more people because of a hiring freeze.

Representative Mary Frances Williams also expressed concerns about the time it’s taking for some applications. “If Georgia had the political will to put the money into this to hire enough staff to get rid of this backlog, it could be done,” she said.

Williams says several lawmakers are now working the Department of Labor to try to have more information available to lawmakers so they can help constituents expedite claims.

GDOL says there are 1.2 million claimants and again says slightly more than 90 percent have received benefits.

Information from South Carolina :

  • In the claim week ending July 4, 16,062 people filed their initial claim for unemployment insurance.
  • This is a decrease of 897 initial claims from the week prior.
  • In the last 16 weeks, the total number of initial claims has risen to 651,750 in South Carolina.
  • The agency has paid more than $2.9 billion in a combination of state UI benefits and CARES Act programs, FPUC ($600), PUA, PEUC & EB.

“We are now approaching a big financial shift nationwide as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment
Compensation (FPUC) program is set to expire on Saturday, July 25,” said Dan Elzey, the executive director S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

Elzey says in South Carolina, the claim week runs from Sunday through Saturday, which means that Saturday, July 25 is the last day of the weekly, extra, $600 in the federal pandemic benefit.

“With that being said, many South Carolina businesses are eagerly looking for workers. They have
created safe, healthy and, in many instances, virtual workplaces,” says Elzey. “If the FPUC program expires as expected, individuals need to be prepared for this change and aware of the many reemployment services available through the SC Works centers across the state.”