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Kemp: Georgia to cut off federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits

ATLANTA — Georgia is joining a growing number of Republican-led states in cutting off federal unemployment benefits to incentivize out-of-work employees to return to their jobs.

Gov. Brian Kemp said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday that the Georgia Department of Labor will stop issuing $300 weekly checks to jobless workers effective June 26.

The governor’s remarks came three days after a coalition of statewide business organizations spearheaded by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce released an op-ed complaining companies can’t find workers for a growing list of job openings because unemployed Georgians are receiving more in state and federal jobless benefits than they could earn by going back to work.

“It is hurting our productivity not only in Georgia but across the country,” Kemp said. “We’ve got to get more people into the workforce.”

Kemp and state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler have been working on a plan to address the issue since a meeting on Monday.

“It is critical for us to support our economy and local businesses by providing solutions to the roadblocks many Georgians have faced when returning to work,” Butler said Thursday in a prepared statement.

“Right now, the state has a historic number of jobs listed on Employ Georgia. We are seeing some of the highest pay scales with enhanced benefits and signing bonuses.”

But worker advocates panned the move to end the higher benefit amount Thursday, saying it is untrue that the extra $300 each week has kept many jobless Georgians from seeking new employment.

Thousands of Georgians have already returned to work since the start of the pandemic last year, contrary to Kemp’s claim that too many workers are still sitting on the sidelines, said Ray Khalfani, a research associate for the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Even so, Khalfani stressed many Georgians are still struggling to find new jobs or return to their old ones after the pandemic battered the job market and killed many service-focused businesses, particularly for low-income and predominantly Black communities in the state.

“Although some jobs are returning, that doesn’t mean everybody who wants to return to work can,” Khalfani said at a news conference.

Among them is Elizabeth Knight, a Savannah resident who has received unemployment benefits since being furloughed from her job as an employment specialist since November 2020. Knight said she has struggled to find new work in her career field while also caring for her young son.

“This unemployment is giving me a little bit of time trying to find out what’s my direction,” Knight said.

Beyond ignoring difficulties for many people trying to find new work, GBPI’s Khalfani also warned Kemp’s decision to end the extra benefit could drive more Georgians into poverty and depress consumer spending that was bolstered by the increased federal benefit.

“When you pull that floor from people who need time to be able to get back to the workforce, that’s something that’s going to hurt a lot of Georgians, hundreds of thousands,” Khalfani said.

The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package the president signed into law last month extends the $300 weekly unemployment checks into September.

Responding to complaints that the checks are encouraging virus-wary Americans not to return to work, Biden said this week that anyone who refuses to take a suitable job will lose their unemployment benefits.

At least a dozen states with Republican governors have moved to cut off the federal benefits, including South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

GSD valedictorian heading off to Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall

After growing up in Rome and attending Georgia School for the Deaf from the ages of 5 to 18, valedictorian Jacquline Williams is excited to venture out of her comfort zone and start the next chapter of her life in Rochester, New York, this fall.

Williams described her experience at GSD as rewarding, saying she has learned a lot about Deaf culture, as well as other cultures.

“There’s so much to learn here and it’s just been wonderful,” she said.

While at GSD, Williams found how much she loved reading and writing through her English teacher Mallory Edge.

“When I first started school, I hated reading books and I didn’t understand why it was important,” Williams said in her graduation speech. “When I met Mallory Edge during my junior year, she showed me so many stories that I could relate to and, through her, I fell in love with reading.”

In the fall, Williams will attend the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, where she plans to study journalism. She hopes to one day be a published author and tell stories that relate to Deaf culture.

“I want to become a writer so that I can share my experiences as a deaf person in a hearing world and invite people to learn and think about the frustrations we have,” Williams said.

She’s been to New York many times over the years, but she doesn’t really know anyone around there. Williams said she plans to take this opportunity to learn how to connect with people.

“I usually just keep to myself,” she said. “But I’m also really looking forward to the snow.”

Besides classes, Williams was involved in Junior National Association of the Deaf at GSD and did a lot of community service, such as visiting elderly homes and volunteering at the Community Kitchen. She was also in Academic Bowl for two years, which she said she really enjoyed.

Feeling very emotional about graduating, Williams said she is going to miss her classmates and the school very much. However, she’s mostly excited about moving forward with her life.

“I’m looking forward to my future, no matter what happens,” Williams said.

Hollis Calhoun, a student at Model Elementary School

AdventHealth signs $635 million agreement to buy Redmond Regional Medical Center

AdventHealth has signed a definitive agreement to purchase Redmond Regional Medical Center from HCA Healthcare.

The $635 million agreement includes the 230-bed facility as well as the Rome hospital’s related businesses, physician clinic operations, outpatient services and all issued and outstanding equity interests.

AdventHealth, a Christian-based hospital system headquartered in Altamonte Springs, Florida, currently has 45 hospital campuses around the country, including in Gordon and Murray counties.

“We are excited about the opportunity to offer our unique promise of whole-person care and look forward to working with and caring for the team members, physicians, and residents of Northwest Georgia and the surrounding area,” said Terry Shaw, president/CEO of AdventHealth, in a statement. “By affiliating with Redmond Regional Medical Center, we will be well positioned to continue providing excellent care in the community.”

This is the fifth hospital that HCA Healthcare has announced it will sell in Georgia recently — the others are in Macon and metro-Atlanta.

The transaction is anticipated to be complete by Aug. 31, pending regulatory approval. At this point it’s unclear what regulatory approvals the sale will require.

In the meantime, AdventHealth and HCA Healthcare are working on the transition period, Redmond CEO John Quinlivan said.

He also said he expects that the hospital system’s current relationship with Harbin Clinic will remain the same.

“We’ve emphasized to our staff that, operationally, nothing changes,” Quinlivan said. “I know Advent knows how important Harbin is, just like HCA and Redmond does. We’re excited about this; we think this is going to be positive for this community.”

If that’s the case, it won’t be the first time Harbin has partnered with AdventHealth.

The Rome-based physician group’s cardiologists have been providing cardiac services in the clinic’s new Calhoun heart facility as well as out of AdventHealth Gordon hospital.

“As Harbin Clinic continues to grow and expand our services to meet the needs of those seeking healthcare in our area, our mission remains unchanged,” said Harbin CEO Kenna Stock. “We look forward to the opportunity to continue working collaboratively with healthcare systems in our market to deliver complete, best-in-class care throughout Northwest Georgia.”

The deal between AdventHealth and Redmond is the second large hospital deal expected to come to fruition in Floyd County this year.

Atrium Health’s pending merger with Floyd Medical Center is expected to be finalized in June or early July. It is currently under review by the Georgia attorney general’s office.

Floyd Medical Center, alongside Polk Medical Center and the company’s hospital in Cherokee County, Alabama, are being purchased by North Carolina-based Atrium Health in a membership substitution agreement. That deal has the potential to pump in excess of $650 million into the Floyd system over the next 11 years.

However, if the Redmond deal comes to fruition, there is the potential for much of the hospital’s property to be removed from the county’s tax rolls. That would translate to a significant cut in funding for both city and county schools.

AdventHealth, like Floyd Medical Center and AtriumHealth, is a nonprofit health system. That designation could mean that Floyd County, and the Rome City Schools system, will take a hit on tax revenue as a result of any changes.

Floyd County Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne said Redmond currently pays $588,000 a year in taxes on personal property including equipment, and another $790,000 on property and buildings. For reference, properties listed under Hospital Authority of Floyd County or Floyd Healthcare Management paid a total of $30,242 in taxes.

AdventHealth Gordon currently shows no record of local property tax paid, according to Gordon County Tax Commissioner Scott Clements.