The Georgia Department of Labor started paying out unemployment benefits through the new federal COVID-19 relief legislation even as a group of unemployed Georgians sued the agency to speed up checks.

The labor department paid out state and federal unemployment benefits to almost 300,000 jobless Georgians, including nearly 167,000 who received checks through the new Continued Assistance Act Congress passed late last month.

“We were able to pay most Georgians without interruption, even with the new guidelines put forth by the new legislation,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said. “We will be implementing even more changes to pay those individuals who have already exhausted benefits and will also implement some of the new programs that were passed in legislation as quickly as possible.

“Some of the elements of the new bill are going to require extensive new programming due to how complex the rules were written in the legislation.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit, filed by a half dozen unemployed Georgians represented by several legal aid agencies, seeks a court order requiring the labor department process unemployment applications in a timely manner, make eligibility determinations, pay unemployment benefits to eligible applicants, and schedule administrative appeal hearings on eligibility determinations.

Butler has acknowledge a backlog of 40,000 to 50,000 applications, according to the plaintiffs.

First-time unemployment claims in Georgia rose by 12,498 to 31,458.

The labor department has paid out more than $16.8 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits to more than 4.2 million Georgians since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit Georgia, more than the last nine years combined.

During the week ending Jan. 2, the job sector accounting for the most initial unemployment claims in Georgia was manufacturing with 7,739 claims. The accommodation and food services sector, which had accounted for the most claims for months, was second with 6,507 claims, followed by administrative and support services with 3,622.

More than 161,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia.com for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

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