State says lack of guidance from feds leading to massive backups in unemployment

ATLANTA — New Georgia unemployment numbers are expected in a matter of hours, but we already know a year's worth of people have filed for help in just a matter of weeks.

Many frustrated Channel 2 Action News viewers have contacted us saying they are having trouble getting unemployment benefits.

We didn't want to just report on problems but look at what the solutions are.

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So, Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray took the concerns to directly to Georgia Commissioner of Labor to get some answers.

One of those people is Karen Schwank, a self-employed interior designer.

“I felt like self-employed people were falling through the crack,” Schwank said. “There’s nothing clear cut out there, so I’m just sort of grasping at straws. I just don’t have things coming in and the majority of my clients have closed.”

A major part of the federal Cares Act extends unemployment benefits to people like Schwank and gig economy workers.

But there is a big problem here: Nobody who is self-employed can collect unemployment benefits yet.

“For days you’ve been waiting on that regulation from the federal government to be able to set this up?” Gray asked Mark Butler, the Georgia Labor Department Commissioner.


“Yes, all last week we were getting crickets and I was getting very frustrated and my frustration came out on a phone call with the U.S. Department of Labor,” Butler said. “Every day to somebody who is need of putting food on their table, is like a year.”

Butler told Gray that the labor department is waiting on federal guidance because they have no income information for self-employed Georgians.

“As far as the gig workers, the self-employed, what can you tell them about when they might start to see some help?” Gray asked Butler.

“Well their program is much more complicated due to the fact they are not in our system. We don’t have information on them and we are being required to do that,” Butler said.

Butler said the unemployment website will be updated and will start taking applications for self-employed workers by Monday.

But workers like Schwank could end up waiting weeks before getting an unemployment check.

“I remember there was going to be a $600 bonus or whatever,” Schwank said.

That extra $600 a week is also a key part of the Cares Act.

But Butler said his office is also waiting on the federal government. The good news: Those bigger checks are coming next week.

“Next Monday, people on current unemployment should seeing during the week that extra money appear,” Butler said.

“As of right now I have no income coming. It’s very hard. I just don’t know what to do at this point,” said Jasmine Dickens.

Dickens and Joshua Charles-Anaele called Channel 2 Action News after they said they were having problems with the unemployment applications and getting help from the Georgia Department of Labor.

“I would just wish to have a phone call back at least, or an email, but seems like I won’t get it,” said Charles-Anaele, a father of an 8-month-old girl.

He told Gray that he was laid off from the auto parts store where he's worked full time for the past three years.

An apparent mistake with his claim says he's due zero benefits, but he can't get it sorted out.

“If you call, no one responds. I send an email, no one responds. I send a Facebook message, no one responds. Go on Twitter, no one responds,” Charles-Anaele said.

Butler told Gray that some 60,000 people are calling the office a day and they're getting about 25,000 emails.

Butler promises the department will get in touch with people whose claims need extra work like Dickens and Charles-Anaele.

He said they're bringing in extra staffing help from other state agencies.

“All I can say is just keep trying, but understand what we’re dealing with right now,” Butler said.

The labor department said it expects to see nearly as many unemployment claims in just the past week as it did in the worst year of the last recession in 2008.