Coronavirus

Officials Working On System, Developing Plan To Get People Their Unemployment Benefits

In this March 17 photo, people wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center in Las Vegas. The unemployment rate is rising across the country due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.
In this March 17 photo, people wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center in Las Vegas. The unemployment rate is rising across the country due to the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Credit John Locher / Associated PRess file

Oren Malik came to Georgia eight years ago to work as a second assistant cameraman in the movie industry. His duties include maintaining the cameras.

“The most notable part of my job is I’m the one in charge of the little slate. You know, before you tape ‘Take 2,'” he says with a smile.

Malik doesn’t mind the long hours on a movie set and the somewhat seasonal nature of the business. He says the movie industry was just revving up from its winter slump a few weeks ago.

“January and February are very slow months for us. It’s what we call below the line, so March was that month where we all were getting back into working.”

He was on the first day of a 25-day movie shoot when the coronavirus pandemic halted everything.

Malik is a member of a union. He works on different movies and film productions. Many of them are big enough that he gets a W-2 tax form. That means employers also pay into Georgia’s unemployment insurance system, and Malik made his claim for benefits online.

“It was pretty simple. Go through all the information. I used my union as my employer.”

Now he’s just waiting for his money and using his time to learn piano.

Malik will not only get Georgia unemployment, which ranges from $55 to $365 a week depending on previous jobs, but he will also get an additional $600 a week from the federal relief bill.

Things aren’t that simple for Laurie Woolfe.

A few years ago after fighting cervical cancer, she quit her corporate job in California and moved to Georgia to be closer to family.

“Life’s too short. I wanna do something that makes me happy, and being a dog walker and pet sitter has been an absolute joy.”

It’s been a good job for her, but many people are now walking their dogs themselves. She’s an independent contractor and not eligible for unemployment benefits from the state. However, she is entitled to the $600-a-week benefits from the federal relief bill.

She is not sure what to do next.

“This is so brand new to me, and the information it’s just trickling in. It’s just not black and white out there on the internet for you.”

And that’s because the state Labor Department doesn’t know yet how to get people like Woolfe into its system. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says they have to literally invent a new one.

On its website, the department tells people like Woolfe not to apply yet and to wait until April 10 for further instructions.

Woolfe says she’s OK with that for now. She’s got about 30 days in savings. Her landlord has offered a payment plan, and some clients are still paying her even though she’s not walking their dogs.

“It’s a very scary time, but a lot of people are being really, really wonderful. I’m just trying to stay positive because I became a dog walker because I wanted to live the rest of my life happy.”

Once she gets to file, her benefits will be retroactive to the week that ended April 4.

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