By Johnny Jackson
Gov. Sonny Perdue announced his approval earlier this week of House Bill 581, legislation that will give Georgia access to $226 million in federal funds to shore up the state's unemployment trust fund.
"Signing H.B. 581 will help prevent tax increases on Georgia businesses so they can grow and create jobs," Perdue said in a statement. "The changes in our unemployment rules and regulations are relatively minor, and I appreciate the General Assembly's willingness to approve additional benefits for unemployed Georgians."
To qualify for the federal funds, provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the state conducted a $1.2-million-per-year expansion of its unemployment benefits. The expansion allows those seeking part-time work to qualify for unemployment benefits. Those who were laid off from a declining occupation and are training for a high-demand occupation may also receive unemployment benefits.
The law now allows Georgians who have exhausted their 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits to receive extended benefits, up to 13 additional weeks, that will be funded entirely by federal funds.
Georgians collecting unemployment benefits could receive an additional $25 per week, according to the bill which temporarily suspends taxes on benefits up to $2,400, and waives interest payments for certain state unemployment insurance programs.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond will appear today before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support in Washington, D.C., as it reviews the implementation and impact of unemployment insurance provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
According to Thurmond, the state jobless rate reported for March may have signaled "the end of the beginning" of the recession.
The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 9.2 percent last month, unchanged from a revised 9.2 percent in February - the first time in 20 months the rate did not increase over the previous month.
"With apologies to Sir Winston Churchill, the better-than-expected March jobless rate does not represent the end of this recession," Thurmond said. "It is not even the beginning of the end. However, it may be the end of the beginning of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression."
The March jobless rate in Georgia was 3.6 percentage points higher than the 5.6 percent rate at this time last year, according to the state labor department.
At present, 442,758 unemployed Georgians are looking for work, about 64 percent more than in 2008, the department said. Of that number, 172,947 (39 percent) are receiving state unemployment insurance benefits, and another 84,700 are receiving federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation.