ATLANTA, GA — Federal aid payments have been approved by Congressional leaders, along with larger unemployment checks, just as Georgia jobless claims have soared in the wake of business shutdowns to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
Non-essential businesses have been shut and schools have closed as Georgia deals with 1,525 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease. As of Thursday afternoon, 48 people have died in the state.
Some businesses, including delivery services, grocery stores, and Amazon warehouses, now need more workers.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms earlier this month created a $7 million emergency fund to help those impacted by the new coronavirus. The relief fund is designed to provide emergency assistance to food programs for children and seniors and support small businesses, hourly wage earners and others in need.
Gov. Brian Kemp has also proposed pulling $100 million from the state's reserves to fight the virus.
The number of unemployment claims in Georgia for the week of March 21 jumped to 12,140 total initial claims filed, up 6,695 from the previous week’s 5,445 claims.
But, the Georgia Department of Labor said it expects "substantially higher claims" in the coming weeks based on its website data. In the first week of March, GDOL saw 59,000 website users. On March 25 alone, it saw 110,000 users.
Further, the GDOL said it has already seen a higher number of unemployment claims than it did in the 2008-2009 recession.
In response to the surge, Kemp and the GDOL issued two new emergency rules impacting emergency benefits. The first extends the length of time a person can receive unemployment benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.
The second allows a person who collects unemployment benefits to earn up to $300 a week from a job and still receive the full amount of unemployment benefits they've qualified for.
"As we work together as a state to combat COVID-19, Commissioner Butler and I are taking steps to ensure Georgia’s workforce is supported during this challenging time," Kemp said in a statement. "I ask Georgians to continue to support their local businesses by getting take-out, tipping well, and ordering your favorite products online, while also observing social distancing and following the directives of state and federal public health officials.”"
Georgia residents can file unemployment claims online. The online application is available 24/7. Those who file claims online will receive an email detailing next steps. Applicants are asked to wait 5-7 days before requesting a weekly payment.
People filing a claim can email questions to the GDOL using an online portal.
Late Wednesday the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a historic $2 trillion aid package. You can read the 880-page bill here. The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to vote Friday, before heading to President Trump's desk. He has promised to immediately sign it.
Lawmakers are desperate to get cash in the hands of Americans and support businesses devastated by the shutdowns in place to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.
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Here's how the package might affect you:
How much money are Americans getting?
Most workers who earned up to $75,000 will get $1,200, plus $500 per child, and joint filers who made up to $150,000 will get $2,400, plus $500 per child. Payments will be gradually less for workers who made more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) and stop altogether at $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers.) The information will be taken from your 2019 or, if unavailable, 2018 tax returns.
You can find out how much you may be getting here.
When can Americans expect to see the money?
The White House has made it clear it wants the money to go out as soon as possible. Officials are eyeing April 6, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Wednesday many people would have their money within three weeks of Trump signing the bill into law. April 6 is less than two weeks away.
How are payments being dispersed?
The Internal Revenue Service will use your 2019, of if unavailable, 2018 return to get your direct deposit information. If that is unavailable, they will send a check to the mailing address on the return they are using.
What about unemployment?
There will be 13 weeks of unemployment payments added to whatever each state offers, as well as $600 a week for four months on top of whatever each state pays.
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—Includes reporting by Patch Editors Tom Davis, Mike Caraggi and Payton Potter