ATLANTA — First-time unemployment claims in Georgia declined by 1,197 last week to 43,605, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The agency paid out more than $168 million in benefits last week, bringing total benefits paid since the coronavirus pandemic exploded in Georgia last March to more than $15 billion, more than the last 27 years combined.

Meanwhile, the labor department announced a pilot project set to begin Nov. 2 that will allow claimants to schedule an online appointment with a claims representative to ask questions about their claim.

Each appointment will be assigned a two-hour window during which a representative will call the claimant. Almost 3,000 appointments will be scheduled during the program’s first two weeks.

“The addition of this online tool will further our ability to address claim issues,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. “We have been adding personnel to our staff to help with general responses, and this addition will allow our experienced staff to focus on resolving claimant issues more efficiently.”

Claimants are urged to be ready to discuss their claim during the time frame allotted. Additional time slots will be added each Monday for the following week. On Monday, Nov. 2, the appointment scheduler will be available on the agency’s website and will be highlighted under the Spotlight area on the homepage.

Since March 21, the accommodation and food services job sector has accounted for the most initial unemployment claims in Georgia with 950,239. The health care and social assistance job sector is next with 456,145 claims, followed by retail trade with 419,395.

More than 167,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding careers, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

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