ATLANTA — Since the coronavirus pandemic started in March, Georgia has received millions of unemployment claims.
But as businesses started reopening, the state tells us those numbers have gone down drastically.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL), the preliminary unemployment rate in May was at 9.7 percent. That's a 2.9 percent decrease from April's record setting numbers.
"The number of employed was up 144,877 over April, but down 480,592 compared to this time last year totaling 4,424,801," said GDOL, in a release Thursday afternoon.
While it seems like things are getting better and people are returning to work, many who lost their jobs are still waiting for months to receive unemployment.
“It’s been tough…A lot of calling and calling and calling the department of labor," said Ryan Steinbach.
The 27-year-old Decatur sound technician filed for unemployment in early April after the movie and TV industry stopped production due to the pandemic.
Steinbach estimates he's spent more than 100 hours on the phone trying to reach someone at GDOL to get his unemployment benefits.
“I try early morning. I try pre-lunchtime, post lunchtime," said Steinbach.
11Alive has heard from thousands of viewers having issues receiving unemployment -- as well as getting a response from GDOL.
“Every time I called, I got kinda sort of attitude with people," said Allen Sherman.
He and eight other Georgians waiting for unemployment joined a zoom call with 11Alive's Andy Pierrotti.
All are part of a Facebook group called "Georgia Unemployment Issues COVID-19", which has nearly 10,000 members.
When we asked how they are doing financially, Allen expressed the hardship that he is dealing with, responding he is "holding on by a thread."
“We’re asking for some kind of help," said Stacy, a single parent in Lithonia.
“People are scared you know. We don’t know when the end of this will be in sight and we’re worried about having a roof over our heads and being hungry," said Steinbach.
Ga. Department of Labor Responds
After hearing what these viewers have been going through, 11Alive sent a recording of the meeting to Kersha Cartwright, a spokesperson for GDOL.
“Those individuals on your zoom call were very frustrated and I certainly understand that," said Cartwright.
“Many of them had received some payments. Some of them had started to receive more payments as they went a long, but it’s very frustrating when you request a payment and it doesn’t show up automatically," said Cartwright.
Cartwright says the cause of most delays involve verifying identities.
“Can we see the social security card, can we see the driver’s license, can we make sure those numbers align and that is what has caused a lot of the delay," explained Cartwright.
According to Cartwright, GDOL has issued over $56 million in PUA payments. She says from the end of March through June 13, 188,022 PUA claims have been processed. GDOL says they have also issued more than $4.1 billion in federal funds for FPUC.
The morning we spoke with the department of labor, Steinbach received his unemployment benefits. Nearly three months after he first filed.
The state says it wished it had implemented more online tutorials to show people how to resolve issues on their own sooner, but it didn't anticipate the wave of people filing for unemployment at the same time.
GDOL says it's important to spend the time to verify identities to reduce fraud. Right now, it's investigating about $1.5 million in potential fraud charges.
The state's biggest piece of advice for those still waiting - keep calling.
GDOL offices are still closed to the public. The department will reopen "as soon as social distancing can be effectively implemented to protect both staff and customer," GDOL said in a release.
Until that happens Georgians are being encouraged to use the online portal and reach out through calling and emailing the office.
"All online services are still available as the staff continues to answer phones, return emails, and assist applicants," said Cartwright.