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Backlog Of Appeals For Unemployment Benefits Collides With Georgia Evictions

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler admits dealing with appeals is one of the biggest problems his agency is facing right now. Many appeals need staff with a legal background or years of experience to handle them, he said.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler admits dealing with appeals is one of the biggest problems his agency is facing right now. Many appeals need staff with a legal background or years of experience to handle them, he said.
Credit Grace Walker / WABE

Many people who call Mary Irene Dickerson at Atlanta Legal Aid have issues with evictions. But then the lawyer learns that some of them are still waiting for unemployment benefits and can’t pay rent.

“We are seeing lots and lots of people that are not getting their unemployment benefits, and they deserve them,” she said.

They’re often people whose initial claims for unemployment were denied, but have appealed the decision. As of last week, 38,698 Georgians had such appeals pending, according the state Department of Labor.

Unemployment is denied for many reasons, such as someone was fired for drug or alcohol use, or something may be wrong with the paperwork. State officials have also admitted mistakes over the past few months, as they were implementing a new system to handle federal unemployment payments amid an onslaught of claims because of COVID-19.

“I think that’s what caused the problems, besides the huge number of people applying, there were so many errors in the process. People were appealing when they didn’t need to appeal, but because the process was unclear, because of the new programs,” Dickerson said.

The backlog on appeals, she says, is now so large that she can’t get answers from the people at the Department of Labor.

For his part, state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler admits dealing with appeals is one of the biggest problem his agency is facing right now. Many appeals need staff with a legal background or years of experience to handle them, he said.

“It’s a difficult job, it’s a highly skilled jobs we have here, and due to the fact that we’re dealing with very large volume right now, you’re seeing a lot more work on that. ”

Butler says he’s staffing up the department and is giving priority to cases where people have been waiting a long time for payments.

Attorney Dickerson says that, unfortunately, eviction court judges don’t care whether someone has an appeal pending for unemployment benefits.