by Robin Kemp

Several members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation are holding a press conference Thursday, saying they are upset at what they call an “unacceptable” lack of communication from the Georgia Department of Labor. They want GDOL to establish a call center to answer calls from people who have been waiting since April for unemployment insurance payments. And they are asking Gov. Brian Kemp to intervene as the holidays approach.

State Rep. Sandra Scott said, “The lack of communication from the Georgia Department of Labor is unacceptable, and it must find a way to help people get paid before the Christmas holiday. My colleagues and I are in disbelief that we are still hearing from the same people we heard from in April and May.”

The legislators point to an October 29 press release from Labor Commissioner Mark Butler introducing an online scheduling portal. They say users are complaining that no one has contacted applicants even after using the portal.

In their own press release, the legislators express concern “about the high volume of phone call and email complaints from constituents stating that they have not received their UI benefits despite receiving notice from the GDOL of having a valid claim. These GHDC members have also received constituent complaints about payments being issued from one to three weeks and then stop without notice. Furthermore, these legislators received reports that Georgians who request an appeal may wait three to four months before scheduling their hearing; these legislators believe that a failure to schedule a hearing in a timely manner is unacceptable.”

The Clayton Crescent made several attempts to reach Butler for comment on the situation several months ago but got no response. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Butler did an interview on WABE’s Closer Look with Rose Scott–the first time he’s spoken extensively on the situation in public.

Butler said his department has been hit hard by COVID-19, including some employee deaths, as well as dealing with a new and complex system imposed by Congress.

Butler said about 300 people usually handle unemployment, but that he has moved people from other departments to double that number. He also said GDOL has hired temporary employees and brought back people who have retired in the past three years to do research and support. Only the most experienced employees can handle more complex cases and appeals, he said.

Butler said there was no backlog of current cases.

“Well, we don’t actually have a current backlog when it comes to actually processing claims,” Butler said. “The biggest, if you want to call it a backlog or workload right now, has to do with claims where, that–let’s say that somebody filed for unemployment and they didn’t report any income, okay? And then they appealed us denying that. The appeals process is fairly backed up, due to the fact that there’s only so many people that can do those. Or in cases where somebody reports that they were laid off,” he continued. “but yet their employer reports back that no, this person was fired for cause, or the employer reports back, no, this person was not laid off, they quit reporting to work, they basically abandoned their job.

“Those cases are obviously going to take longer because there has to be an investigation of fact-finding,” Butler explained. “Both sides get to make their case because unemployment, especially regular unemployment, is one of those deals where the employer is the one that pays the tax on basically this insurance product, if you want to look at it that way. And so, if they disagree with what the reason was put in to ask for the unemployment, you know, they do get a say-so on it because their rate is affected by how many people get laid off. And obviously, we look at both sides and we’re a neutral party in that.”