The Georgia labor commissioner fears rates paid by employers could go up if the recession lingers.


People fill out unemployment claim forms and look through job listings at the Department of Labor’s Career Center on Riverside Parkway on Monday afternoon. (Lindy Dugger Cordell / RN-T)

Despite the rising number of jobless Georgians, the state’s trust fund for unemployment benefits is in good shape, with $958 million in reserve, according to state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond.

“Georgia’s trust fund is relatively stable compared to the majority of the rest of the nation,” Thurmond said. Whether the state might have to raise the taxes that employers pay into the fund “would depend on the length and the depth of this ongoing recession. The trust fund is a finite resource,” he said.

“We hope we can get through this recession without increasing taxes,” Thurmond added. “But this downturn is unprecedented. No one knows how long it’s going to last or how deep it’s going to go.”

Georgia’s unemployment rate for December reached 8.1 percent, the highest since March 1983. It continues to lead the nation, whose unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.

Also in December, the number of people filing first-time unemployment claims in Floyd County jumped 351 percent as compared to December 2007.

Approximately 40 percent of people statewide who’ve lost jobs are getting unemployment insurance benefits.

Unemployment insurance is a temporary income for workers who are unemployed and either looking for a job, will be recalled to their job within six weeks or are in approved training.

The funding for unemployment insurance benefits comes from taxes paid by employers. Workers do not pay any costs.

Eligibility for benefits is based on past wages, reason for job separation, and availability and job search requirements.

Private, or contributory, employers pay taxes on the first $8,500 of each employee’s salary to the state’s trust fund. (Government and non-profit employers pay dollar-for-dollar as unemployment claims are filed.)

That tax is based on an administrative assessment of .08 percent applied to the $8,500, according to Brenda Brown, the labor department’s assistant commissioner for unemployment insurance benefits.

A person qualifies when he is separated from a job — from a lack of work, layoffs or the employer going out of business.

The labor department looks at the unemployed person’s wages during a base period — the first four of the last five calendar quarters, Brown said.

To establish a claim the person has to have had wages in at least two of those quarters. The maximum claim that can be established in Georgia is $330 a week, and the maximum length on a regular claim is 26 weeks.

“Not everyone gets 26 weeks, though,” Brown said.

If a person quits a job, he or she has to show good cause to establish a claim. “There are very few reasons you can quit and qualify,” Brown said.

In disputed claims, both parties, the former employer and the claimant, have the right to appeal, first through a tribunal of hearing officers and then a board of review.

It’s necessary throughout the process to seek employment. Claimants have to report weekly job search activity.

They also can take advantage of DOL assistance.

“We want to make sure they understand we not only want to give them benefits, but we want to help them find a job,” Brown said.

The labor department provides a wide range of transitional services to laid-off workers, including on-site employee information sessions describing services available through the labor department, assistance in filing claims for unemployment compensation, re-employment services, access to retraining opportunities, skills assessment and correlation with available employment opportunities, special workshops about career options, local and national job listings, and resume writing and interviewing skills.

Click here to see the Georgia Department of Labor Web site.

Career Centers

The labor department has 53 career centers throughout the state. Those serving Northwest Georgia are:

Rome — 462 Riverside Parkway, 706-295-6051, serving Floyd and Gordon counties

Cartersville — 19 Felton Place, 770-387-3760, serving Bartow and Paulding counties

Cedartown — 321 West Ave., 770-749-2213, serving Polk and Haralson counties

Dalton — 1406 Chattanooga Ave., 706-272-2301, serving Whitfield and Murray counties

LaFayette — 200 W. Villanow St., 706-638-5525, serving Chattooga and Walker counties

Fort Oglethorpe — 96 Stuart Road, 706-861-1990, serving Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.