Tens of thousands of the self-employed, contractors and concert workers are now eligible for Georgia unemployment benefits, but these checks have so far been impossible to obtain.
The claim for benefits failed as more and more desperate workers rushed into a Labor Department system put in place to dismiss anyone who was not part of the company’s payroll.
For many, the need for financial backup is urgent.
“I currently have $ 170 in my account,” said Susan Adili de Fayette, who was driving for Lyft and Uber until the coronavirus crisis, when the business evaporated. “I can tell you that I’m worried. “
Labor Department officials acknowledge the problems, but say the ultimate culprit is in Washington, D.C .: Federal officials have not yet provided the guidelines and regulations necessary to write checks in Georgia.
This delay is accompanied by an unprecedented increase in unemployment. Nationally, about 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March, reflecting the virtual closure of many sectors of the economy.
The Georgia Department of Labor said on Thursday that it had processed a record 133,820 unemployment claims the previous week and that the number could be higher this week.
To deal with the crisis, Congress adopted a $ 2.2 trillion rescue program. The bill included 1,200 checks to most adults, but also added $ 600 to state unemployment benefits.
The measure also extended the eligibility for these unemployment benefits to workers who have not received them in the past: the self-employed, as well as concerts and independent entrepreneurs.
These changes have not yet been communicated to states.
Workers claiming unemployment benefits in Georgia must use the state labor department’s website because the department closed its offices as the virus crisis deepened.
But the website is set up for workers who have been on a payroll and whose earnings are declared using a W-2 form.
For six years, Victoria Donchess, 41, of Suwanee has worked in the Georgia film industry, moving from concert to concert. However, the company closed and its request for benefits from the Labor Department was rejected.
She called the department several times and received only busy signals.
“The fact that I have not worked since March 11 has put a strain on me, especially with the purchase of my medication,” she said. “I couldn’t get two because I don’t have the money. I do not know what to do. “
The pain of the self-employed and contract workers is no small problem for the Georgian economy.
Although no specific figures are available, about 470,000 Georgians are self-employed, more than half of them on the Atlanta subway, said economist Michael Wald, former senior economist at the US Department of Labor.
This includes those who do concerts, but also those who have their own businesses, such as Bethany Bearden of Gainesville, who is an occupational therapist.
“Since the virus, my workload has dropped by about two-thirds,” she said. “And before the virus, I lived paycheck in paycheck without any savings. There are no jobs in my field nationwide. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have a feeling that my bank account will be overdrawn by next week. “
Labor Department officials recognize the problem and frustration of unemployed Georgians. They say they have changed the website to provide more help.
But there is still little they can do for contract and contract workers and the self-employed, said Mark Butler, the Georgia labor commissioner.
The final solution depends on Washington, he said: the federal government has yet to provide the state with the guidance it needs to enforce the law and make payments to workers.
“I am ready to see action from the United States Department of Labor,” he said. “We just need them to finish the rules and regulations so we can get the job done. “
Jessica Burrell, 34, of Lawrenceville, a massage therapist, hopes that the corrections can be made soon. She has seen work disappear and plans to file a claim in a few weeks.
“My husband is still working, so we have income, but finances are tightening without my income,” she said.
As rents and mortgages loom and no immediate resumption of activity is likely, the stakes for workers are rising.
Jeffrey Brahm, 51, of Brookhaven, owns Tech-Go, which rents technical equipment while doing technician work and jostling for DoorDash. Now there is no job and getting government help is crucial, he said.
The crisis erupted so quickly that it was not possible to prepare, he said. “I went from $ 1,000 or more every week to zero.”
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