Update (March 26, 11:10 a.m.): More than 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as many struggle to stay working during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday.
The number surpassed the previously-set record of claims in 1982 by more than 2.5 million, and the number of claims is still growing.
“This large increase in unemployment claims was not unexpected, and results from the recognition by Americans across the country that we have had to temporarily halt certain activities in order to defeat the coronavirus," Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said.
A $2 trillion virus rescue bill was passed by the U.S. Senate Wednesday, which would grant funding to unemployment and other government assistance programs, assistance to businesses and cash payments to individuals who earn less than $75,000.
Officials hope that the bill will help to reduce the number of employers having to lay off workers with different incentives and funding for businesses.
Many in Forsyth County and throughout Georgia are desperately trying to seek government financial assistance as businesses have started to close, reduce their hours or slow down drastically in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Georgia Department of Labor Spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright said that for those who are only out of work temporarily as businesses wait to get through the pandemic, filing for unemployment benefits should be easy.
“We’re asking people to go through their employers,” Cartwright said. “If you’ve been temporarily laid off and you had planned for, ‘hey you know what, after this whole thing is over, I’m going to go back to work. I’m going to go back to my job. This is just temporary,’ those employers are going to file partial claims on behalf of those employees.”
Employers can file a partial claim for any of their full-time or part-time employees who have been temporarily laid off or who currently have reduced hours. With just some basic information, employers can file partial claims through an online portal after registering with the Department of Labor.
Step-by-step instructions on how employers can register and then file claims for their employees are available through the department’s website at dol.georgia.gov.
Most permanent employees qualify for the partial benefits offered by the department, but employees who have voluntarily left work, including those who have decided to stay at home to self-quarantine, do not qualify.
Forsyth County resident Jack Macallister said that he works in the automotive industry and his company has stated that employees are required to work through the pandemic. With working as a mechanic and having to get in and out of many people’s cars every day, however, Macallister was not willing to take the risk. His first week out of work, he was able to use paid vacation days, but going forward, he will not be paid, and he does not qualify for benefits.
“I'm immunocompromised from being diabetic,” Macallister said. “The [Family and Medical Leave Act] may or may not ensure that I still have my job when this is over. I've been a Honda master technician for 36 years and this is a heck of a way to end up.”
Cartwright also said that if residents have been laid off from their job and will not be able to return after the pandemic has subsided, then they must file their own unemployment claims through the department’s online services. There is also a step-by-step guide on how to file independently on the department’s website, but filing may take some time.
Cartwright said that partial claims are automated and may only take a couple of days to process whereas individual claims can take up to several weeks. On top of that, the demand for government assistance has gone up drastically as worries over the coronavirus has caused businesses all over to close their doors and consequently lay off employees, and it has caused these services to become severely delayed.
Forsyth County resident Jessica Myers was recently temporarily laid off from her job as a server at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Cumming. Myers said that she filed for unemployment nearly a week ago and still does not know when she will be able to receive her benefits.
Myers has also been checking every day to see if she can apply for the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program to help with her finances, but she said, “a lot of people are doing it and [the website] is acting funny.” Myers, a mother of two, has since been asking community members for help to find temporary work.
Ashley Berry, also a Forsyth County resident, has found herself in a similar situation. Berry said that she was bartending at two different restaurants, but one has recently closed and the other is rapidly slowing down in business. She tried filing for unemployment but hit a roadblock when she realized that her license was expired and that the DMV is currently closed until April. Thankfully, Berry said that her husband is still working and providing for the both of them.
“Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I were in a lot of these peoples’ shoes,” Berry said. “That's why it's critical that the government does something soon. Most people don't think about other people's situation if it's not something they are experiencing themselves. Bills being delayed is a great start, but you can't delay hunger. It needs to be addressed [soon] because there are children sitting at home hungry.”
For those working in the restaurant industry right now, readily available benefits could be crucial. Many restaurants in Forsyth County have closed their dine-in services and started selling in more creative ways to customers such as offering curbside pickup and deliveries. The sales may not be enough, however, and while local restaurants are trying their best to not lay off their employees, these businesses are still unsure of the future.
According to a report from the Georgia Restaurant Association, there were more than 18,400 restaurants in the state in 2018, and there were 488,400 foodservice jobs in Georgia in 2019.
Those who own their own businesses are also struggling to come up with a financial plan as they do not qualify for unemployment benefits and other government resources.
“If they are self-employed right now, we cannot help them at this point,” Cartwright said. “Until the federal government rules on disaster unemployment, that is not the case.”
Disaster Unemployment Assistance is a program that provides unemployment benefits to anyone who has become unemployed due to a major disaster as declared by the U.S. President.
Until the federal government makes a decision on disaster unemployment, individuals such as Forsyth County resident Lisa Palak will see an impact on their daily lives.
Palak is her own boss, working as an American Sign Language interpreter for different schools and students in the area. Many schools in Forsyth County started closing their doors toward the beginning of the month. Soon after Gov. Brian Kemp’s order to close public primary and secondary schools through March, the county school system then announced that they would not open again until after spring break in April. In the meantime, Palak is not sure what she will do.
“My clients only pay me if I actually do the work,” Palak said.
While many may be unsure of how to move forward, communities all over Georgia and the U.S. are waiting to hear about benefits and possible help from the federal government. The White House and Congress were expected to finalize negotiations over a $2 trillion economic rescue package Tuesday that would give direct payments to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and a $350 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home, according to the Associated Press.
The one-time rebates are about $1,200 per person, or $3,000 for a family of four.
Macallister and Berry both said they hope that people will get the positive news that they need sooner rather than later.