Georgia Department of Labor talks disconnect in CSRA unemployment benefits

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Georgia Department of Labor is speaking out after multiple complaints from people across the CSRA about not receiving unemployment benefits or a call back.

NewsChannel 6 first brought you this story a year ago when people waited weeks to get benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We learned that while most people want to head down to the unemployment office to settle matters about unreceived benefits, you should not. And that’s exactly what James Smith Jr. has been doing for the past year.

Now, everything is 100 percent online.

“A notice saying suspended until further notice because of COVID,” James Smith Jr., who is unemployed, described.

That news came in April of last year. James Smith Jr. said he was working at the Charlie Norwood VA downtown in Augusta as a dishwasher when he was let go.

Smith explained, “It makes me feel kind of depressed because with my social security and the money I had coming in from the VA, I was making pretty good.”

The husband of 40 years said he is just making ends meet. And has been calling what he knows as the unemployment office downtown more than twice a month for the past year, after filing for benefits last September.

“I’ve went down there and even when I’m on the city bus, going down 7th Street, you can look down from 7th Street and see that there are no cars at the unemployment office,” he said.

NewsChannel 6 also talked with Kersha Cartwright, GA DOL Director of Communications. She said, “Those Career Centers that we have around the state are intended for re-employment services only. They’ve never been an unemployment office.”

Cartwright said Georgia Department of Labor offices, such as the one in downtown Augusta, offer resume help and job placement. She said some benefits created for the pandemic have ended, such as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). But 56,000 regular ones happen completely online. But not everyone gets paid.

Cartwright added, “You kind of have to look back at what is the basic reason of unemployment and that is to be unemployed through no fault of your own. I think that’s where a lot of the disconnect comes from.”

The lack of benefits led to a class action lawsuit being filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In Smith’s case, he’s willing to get back to work as a dishwasher, delivery person or driver. He’s hoping Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler knows his name now.

He shared, “I just hope he looks at my case very thoroughly so I can get approved.”

We made the Labor Commissioner’s office aware of Smith’s case and the many others in the CSRA.

Here’s one piece of advice Cartwright shared. Unemployment claims only last for one year. So you would need to file again if 52 weeks have passed since you filed.

To access unemployment needs online, click here.

To set up a re-employment portal, click here.

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