‘This one was actually fairly simple’: Georgia Labor Commissioner talks stimulus package, unemployment changes

You can check what day your benefit year ends in your unemployment portal.
You can check what day your benefit year ends in your unemployment portal.(WALB)
Updated: Mar. 18, 2021 at 3:09 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Stimulus checks should be hitting your bank account soon, but for those on unemployment in Georgia, the stimulus package does more than just add more money to your account.

“The main thing we’re dealing with here is basically changing extension dates and cleaning up that type of stuff. But we’ve come to find out some technical flaws in the legislation that they’re going to have to go back and fix. And so we’re kind of dealing with that and we’re in contact with U.S. Department of Labor about how to approach that,” Mark Butler, Georgia labor commissioner, said.

Butler said the issue with the stimulus package comes down to Congress’ decisions on deadlines and extensions.

“One thing that we keep running into is they either go past a deadline to do an extension, or they wait to right up until the deadline to do anything. And I think what they don’t realize is even though, let’s say you pass it a couple of days for the deadline, the U.S. Department of Labor still has to read through the entirety of the bill, and give us your direction or rules for us to know what is it wants to change. You know, in this case, there was some discrepancy about how many weeks extension it was going to be. Because they kind of put a date certain instead of weeks,” Butler said. “All this sounds just kind of random, but we still had to program it into the computer system because it has to tell people how many weeks you have left, and how much you’re going to be getting. And the way they did this last one, it was kind of conflicted. They didn’t do it like they normally do. Like the last extension said, ‘an additional 11 weeks.’ This one, it gave a date certain verses weeks, and right now though, you know, it’s going to show up as 29 weeks. But, there’s actually only going to be funding for 25 weeks. And so some people will probably get to the end of this and get angry saying we didn’t pay them their last four weeks. But when in actuality, those weeks were not actually funded.”

That date certain is Sept. 6.

Despite its flaws, Butler said this package is simpler than the ones in the past.

“Well, this one was actually fairly simple. They just added additional weeks, they didn’t make any major changes in these programs. The big changes that we saw made in the programs happened in the CARES extension that was passed in December,” Butler said. “Those are very complicated and actually have caused a delay in some people’s payments because of additional information that they wanted us to go back and re-evaluate that we had already done. And they had changed the rules and so some of those issues are still out there.”

The stimulus package, Butler pointed out, will not be groundbreaking for Georgia’s economy.

Georgia Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler, said the stimulus package was "was actually fairly...
Georgia Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler, said the stimulus package was "was actually fairly simple."(WALB)

“I’m really not sure if here in Georgia that there’s going to be much of an advantage. And the reason why I say that is, I understand some states have been slow to reopen whereas Georgia has not, you know. Right now, we currently have a record number of jobs posted right now on Employ Georgia — the most we’ve ever had in the history of tracking it. Over 200,000 job listings and that doesn’t mean just 200,000 jobs — that’s listings. A lot of those listings are for multiple people. So, I mean, you could easily have 350,000 jobs that we need to fill. So, I’m actually more concerned about that right now. And also, because of how rich some of these benefits are, you start talking about, you know, more rural Georgia, having to compete with some of this stuff,” Butler said. “I mean, you know the average person right now is getting anywhere between $14 and $15 an hour on unemployment. There are some mom and pops places out there which, they may be paying that amount. But even if you can pay $15 an hour for somebody to come work for you, is somebody going to come work for 15 versus not work for 15? And so, you know, I think right now, you’re not going to really see the economy recover fully until we stop some of this excess that we’re doing right now.”

Butler said the package will benefit those that are out of work though.

“Anybody that’s on unemployment will be impacted. Obviously, the ones that have been in the longest, you know, they’re going to see their unemployment extended. I mean, right now, you can easily have some people that have been on unemployment for over a year. And right now, the majority of the individuals that are currently on unemployment are already in some type of extension or they’re on the new self-employment, PUA employment, which didn’t exist this time last year. It’s only a small amount of people in the total universe that are actually on regular unemployment right now,” Butler said.

Butler said that if Congress does plan to clarify the deadlines in this stimulus package, they’ll just add it onto a future bill.

Even though the anniversary of the first COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in southwest Georgia has come and gone, many Georgians are still out of work.

Butler said it might be time for those people to apply for unemployment again.

“How it kind of works is, all unemployment claims are good for one year. If you’re one of those individuals where your employer is filing for you, that process kind of happens automatically when they file for you because it’s a different type of claim. Because they’re basically going in and certifying that you’re still unemployed, and all that process is kind of done,” said Butler.

Butler said that anyone who filed unemployment for themselves has to file again after a year of their initial claim. That includes those on regular unemployment insurance (UI) and those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

You can check what day your benefit year ends in your unemployment portal.

“For the individual, it doesn’t really matter if you’re on regular UI, or one of the extensions, or in the PUA program, claims are good for one year. There’s been confusion out there where people think they’ve read somewhere on the internet that if you get PUA, then you don’t have to apply again. You know, by law and by rule, we have to basically take a look at your claim and see if any other income has been reported on you. And part of the process is you going in on the day after your benefits end date, and you’ll go in and you’ll file a new claim. If you’ve picked up any additional income or any other jobs, you need to state that in there. If you haven’t, then you know, then don’t,” Butler said. “And then we will have to check and make sure there’s not any out there because we have had a very large number of people already, where they have not been reporting additional income that they’ve been making, and that’s caused payments to stop. I think just for the month of December, we saw over 10,000 people who had not been reporting additional income. Once it got reported to us, you know, obviously we catch it, we stopped payments because then there’s a very good chance that person may be in a situation where they have received more unemployment than they should have.”

If you filed for unemployment last year, got a new job, and then became unemployed again, you don’t have to file a new claim as long as your benefit year hasn’t ended yet.

“Well, basically just go back into claiming to add additional information, you know. The claim is still good for one year, you don’t start the year over. And then we will have to go back and watch and look and see what the reason for separation was. You know, like for example, if you were laid off, then you know there should be a lack of work and you should have something from the employer saying, ‘Hey, we had to lay this person off and we can’t pay him.’ But now if you quit that job, or you are fired from that job, then there’s going to have to be a hearing,” Butler said. “Typically, here in Georgia, if you quit your job or are fired from a job, you are not automatically approved for benefits, and there’s a chance you won’t be approved for benefits because that’s really not one of the allowable reasons. However, there are some situations where that can happen. And so there has to be a hearing set up, and right now I can tell you is, the vast majority of people who are applying for unemployment right now are not layoffs. In the month of February, only 20 percent of the people who individually file for unemployment were actually laid off due to a lack of work. The other 80 percent were either quits or fires,” said Butler.

Butler said it’s hard to say how long the re-filing might take, but there are some cases that move more quickly than others.

“In some cases, like a regular claim or one of the extensions, you know, it’s going to kind of depend on what information you put down and what information we find when we run your numbers again. Like for example, if you did go back to work and didn’t report it, then there could be a significant delay while we investigate and do a wage investigation,” Butler said. “So, that’s why you have to be honest. If you go back to work and you’re making some money, you have to report that, because it will eventually be reported to us. But now, if you’re still in the same situation and incomes have been reported, you should go fairly quickly, especially if you’re still talking about a lack of work.”

Butler said once you apply for unemployment and are approved for benefits, you need to go into your portal each week and certify that you are still unemployed.

“Believe it or not, we’re still having this one problem that we’ve had since the very beginning. And that is people not going in and do their weekly certifications, where they’re certifying that they were still out of work. We just helped four people this morning here in my office that were complaining about never getting their benefits. When we went and looked, they had never requested them. So, if you never request those benefits, our system does not move forward on your claim because it looks like maybe that you got laid off, and then immediately found work somewhere else. And if you never requested your benefits, there would be no further action taken on your account. And right now, there’s about 100,000 unemployment claims in our system where nobody’s ever requested a payment. And that seems like a lot, and it is a lot, but that’s really only 5 percent, which is actually normal. Five percent of claims never get a payment request,” said the commissioner.

You can view other frequently asked questions and read more about common claim mistakes by clicking here.

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