While the number of unemployed has trended much lower in recent months locally, some are still reporting difficulty dealing with the Georgia Department of Labor, including long delays in receiving payment, getting decisions on their applications or a date for an appeal hearing.
Gainesville resident Justin Wilson, who lost his job in January, waited months before receiving a decision on his application for unemployment insurance benefits. He applied in January, then the department denied his application in early May because his employer contested it. (Wilson and his former employer dispute the reason why his employment was terminated, and the employer would not comment on the dispute.)
Wilson appealed the decision and is still waiting to get a date for his appeal hearing.
“I’ve tried calling, been calling pretty much every day since January,” Wilson said. “It goes straight to an automated voice message system. You leave messages, and I’ve never received a phone call back after leaving messages.”
He has only spoken on the phone with a representative twice since January, he said. He got a call three months after he submitted his application, he said, and the representative told him to fill out a questionnaire emailed to him. But the 26 questions included in the email did not give him the ability to explain himself, he said, which he will not have an opportunity to do until he gets an appeal hearing.
All applicants who are denied unemployment insurance can appeal the decision, but Wilson said he is worried because a recent lawsuit filed by four Georgians against the department states that people have had to wait an average of 217 days before being heard.
“In the midst of the largest unemployment catastrophe in recent memory, the Georgia Department of Labor (“GDOL”) has repeatedly failed to follow the law governing the payment of unemployment benefits,” the lawsuit states. “Repeatedly and systematically, the GDOL
Fulton County Superior Court has violated those rights — failing to make prompt determinations regarding unemployment benefits, failing to provide prompt appeal hearings of those determinations, and failing to make payments that are undeniably due.”
While waiting, Wilson said he has had to sell most of his possessions to pay his rent, including music equipment and his car, which limits where he could potentially work. He was contacted July 2 by a department representative, who told him he will receive notice in the mail for his appeal hearing. But he said he does not know how long this will take or when he should expect to receive it.
Kersha Cartwright, a spokesperson for the department, said receiving unemployment insurance is not a quick process when the employer and employee do not agree on the reason for termination. The appeals process is like a “mini court case,” that can take several months, she said, and many applicants are appealing decisions multiple times.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 and claims skyrocketed, the average wait time for an appeal hearing was close to a month, Cartwright said.
Cartwright said they have staff working 24/7 responding to people who contact them over phone, email and social media.
“We are continuing to hire staff in that area, however the volume is tremendous at this point,” Cartwright said. “I thought maybe it would slow down just a bit. It has not, so we’re continuing to deal with those folks and reach out and try to resolve their claims. … We’re seeing the claims go down at this point a little bit, but we anticipated that when we stopped the federal programs and people are getting back into the workforce.”
Those looking for jobs can visit the Employ Georgia website, run by the department, at employgeorgia.com to view job listings, she said. Local career centers should also open soon to in-person visitations, she said, but those offices will not service people regarding unemployment insurance and are for reemployment services only.
Unemployment claims in Hall County are down 89% from May 2020 to May 2021, and claims are down about 18% from April to May of this year, according to GDOL. Gainesville added 300 jobs in May over the previous month and has added 5,000 jobs since the end of May last year.