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Georgia labor commissioner defends spending $1.1 million on employee lunches during pandemic

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says providing employee lunches during the pandemic allowed the department to improve efficiency and safety.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says providing employee lunches during the pandemic allowed the department to improve efficiency and safety.
Credit Grace Walker / WABE

An audit obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that from March 2020 until June of this year, Georgia Department of Labor employees received daily lunches paid for by state and federal funds.

The meals cost taxpayers more than $1.1 million, some of which was intended for unemployment benefits.

Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler criticized the findings, saying the spending was necessary to keep employees in the office all day, working.

The department was processing an unprecedented number of unemployment claims and wanted to reduce the risk of employees bringing COVID-19 into the workplace.

Butler told WABE’s “All Things Considered” that his office received permission for the expenditures from the head of the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees state spending.

“When you’re talking about ‘did they get something for the money?'” said Butler, “Absolutely, because we got more hours out of the day of work. But when you’re talking about the safety and welfare of your employees, what is that worth?”

The revelations have drawn disapproval from lawmakers and residents, further damaging the department’s reputation which was already tarnished by complaints that unemployment claims were being processed too slowly during the pandemic.

Christopher Alston contributed to this report.