1M Georgians filed for unemployment in last month - more than past 3 years combined

ATLANTA — Brand new numbers from the state show the Department of Labor has now processed more than 1 million unemployment claims.

That is more than the past three years combined.

Channel 2’s Lauren Pozen spoke to Georgia’s labor commissioner, who said his team is working hard to process all of the new claims.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said most of his staff get to work with 40,000 emails in their inbox. He said his employees are working long hours seven days a week to try and help everyone as best they can.

“If we triple, quadrupled the number of people answering phones right now and you still wouldn’t be able to keep up the sheer volume that we have,” Butler said. “We went from 20,000 claims a month to a million a month. There’s nothing you can do to plan for something like that.”

Need help filing for unemployment? Click here.

Looking for a list of people hiring? Click here.

Butler said Georgia is in the midst of processing unprecedented unemployment claims. He said it’s surpassed the worst year of the recession in 2009.

“For the entire year we only had about a million claims. So basically, did the worst year of the recession in a month’s time,” Butler said.

Nationwide, new numbers released Thursday morning show more than 4.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week. The U.S. Department of Labor says that’s down more than 800,000 from the previous week.

Butler said in Georgia, one of the hardest-hit industry continues to be hospitality.

He said it's too early to tell if the state re-opening some of those businesses Friday will make an impact on the number of people filing for unemployment.

[Can you refuse to work when Georgia reopens and still collect unemployment?]

"When we start coming out of this, we know businesses are not just going to be back to normal. There’s going to be an adjustment period,” Butler said.

Pozen talked to people who were frustrated with the process of filing their claims;

Joe Duffy said he's been waiting to hear back from the department since filing March 6.

"I've literally been paying to the system for 38 years," Duffy said. " First time I've applied for anything, and I am literally banging my head up against the wall."

Abigail (who didn't want us to use her last name) said she also hasn't been able to reach anyone since being laid off at the end of March.

“I call every day,” she said. "I just repeat call everyday to see if I can get someone.I either get hung up on, or I get voicemail. I’ve left numerous messages I haven’t gotten a call back. It’s been frustrating.

Many people have reached out to Channel 2 Action News about issues with the unemployment process.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Justin Gray found that the biggest problem people have is trying to get through to someone when there is an issue filing their claim.

James Riley, who lives in Norcross, said he's been waiting five weeks since filing for employement.

"Believe it or not, I was calling everyday probably between 20 to 40 times per day," Riley said. "When you don’t have any income, and you don’t know when the next check is coming, or when it's gonna happen... All we want is answers."

As some Georgia businesses start to reopen, you can still collect unemployment benefits while working part-time.

As long as you collect at least a dollar in state benefits, you get $600 in federal money a week, and you can still get your full state check while earning up to $4300 in outside income. After that, it starts deducting dollar-for-dollar.

Butler told Gray that if you employer does open but you have a medical reason not to return, live with someone who does or have no childcare with schools closed, you can still collect unemployment.

For people like Riley, Butler said their cases need one-on-one attention, but the phone lines have been overwhelmed. .

"We need to get to the folks who haven't gotten any money yet," Butler said.

Gray helped connect Riley to someone at the Department of Labor who is working on his case.

For everyone else, Butler said they need people who have received money to stop calling to try to open up the phone lines for those who haven't.

There are also rumors flying that they are running out of money -- but that is false. There’s $2.2 billion in the trust fund, but even if that runs out, they’ll continue to pay out claims.

Have questions about the spread of coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.