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‘All I want is a human to answer my questions’ - jobless frustrated with unemployment system
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Marybeth Martin, of Clermont, is participating in the "wear a hat" campaign to support hair stylists. Photo Courtesy Marybeth Martin

Marybeth Martin hasn’t seen income since her hair salon closed March 21.

“As an independent contractor, we have been promised to also receive unemployment,” said the Clermont resident. “I applied the day they opened this option up on April 13. I haven’t received a response, and my account still shows pending.”

She said she is “really uncertain of when or if we will receive unemployment.”

Savannah Healy, a Flowery Branch restaurant worker, said her employer applied for her to get jobless benefits on March 23, but she was turned down.

“I reapplied for myself three more times and got denied again,” Healy said.

Compounding the misery is “my payment status is not available for the ($1,200) stimulus check and I haven’t seen any sight of any $600 per week (in federal unemployment supplement),” she said.

“It’s like they don’t care about our well-being, because they’re still getting paid,” Healy said. “Emails and voicemails have gone unanswered, and all I want is a human to answer my questions.”

Scores of people nationwide are experiencing the same kind of woes — jobless and other benefits promised but not delivered, as well as unanswered emails and busy signals from government officials tasked with helping the unemployed.

A survey conducted in mid-April by Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, shows that for every 10 people who said they successfully filed for unemployment benefits during the previous four weeks, 3-4 people “tried to apply but could not get through the system to make a claim.”

The Georgia Department of Labor has acknowledged that not all people are getting claims approved and not all have received payments.

Nearly half of Georgia’s 1.37 million initial jobless claims processed since mid-March have been deemed “valid with enough earned wages,” the department said in a press release Thursday, April 30.

The number of successful claims is 725,000 claims.

Reasons vary for why the remaining 644,000 claims have been considered invalid, including that applicants could potentially be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which includes the self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, employees of churches, employees of nonprofits, or those with limited work history who do not otherwise qualify for state unemployment benefits. 

Also, “many are still in the claims process awaiting eligibility determination,” according to the labor department.

“This also includes claims where duplicate claims have been filed, identification has been requested, excessive weekly earnings have been reported, or child support stops have been issued. These claims require additional handling, and the GDOL is working diligently to address many of these stops.”

The labor department has reported that 444,195 Georgians have received their first payment, or 62% of the valid claims.

Assurances from state officials that claims are being processed is cold comfort to someone like Ali Lohnes, who said, “We have submitted paperwork on behalf of all our employees every week from the start — myself included. I have some employees who’ve gotten a little bit here and there, and some, including myself, who have gotten nothing.

“I can’t get a call back regarding my personal status or my employees,” said Lohnes of the Bullpen Neighborhood Grill in Forsyth County. “It’s ridiculous.. not a single cent from (federal) stimulus or unemployment. … We have employees who can’t even afford to feed their families right now.”

The system is overloaded, state officials have said.

“Even if we added 10,000 people today that were trained to answer the phone, we would still not be able to keep up with the volume we’re having right now,” Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told reporters in an April 23 briefing. “When you’re talking about this many claims, it is not unreasonable to think that there’s 200,000 trying to call us at any given moment of any given day.”

For now, Healy is in Florida visiting her parents as “I have the time since I’m not working,” but also for their financial support.

“I’ll be back up at my house as soon as I can go back to work,” she said.