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Decatur County industries holding strong, local businesses feel hit

Georgians around the state are putting increased demand on unemployment compensation as jobs are being cut due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Georgia Department of Labor reported 12,140 initial unemployment claims during the week of March 15 to March 21, more than double the previous week’s claims. More claims are expected in the coming weeks.

Decatur County is holding strong, said Industrial Development Director Rick McCaskill. The county’s manufacturing facilities are still up and running close to full force. It’s Bainbridge’s retail businesses, restaurants and hotels that have been hit hardest so far. But a general feeling of anxiety about what else could occur still lingers.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, so a lot of people are scared,” said McCaskill. “We haven’t had the big layoffs, but that uncertainty is what has everybody holding up.”

The Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce is taking a proactive approach to keeping its members informed, added McCaskill. Luckily, with agriculture being the main industry in Decatur County, the lifeblood of the region will continue to help prop up the community.

To deal with the exploding demand for economic relief, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order last Thursday authorizing Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler to issue two emergency rules extending the length of time an individual can collect benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks and providing that the first $300 of wages earned in a week will not count against eligible unemployment benefits paid.

“As we work together as a state to combat COVID-19, Commissioner Butler and I are taking steps to ensure Georgia’s workforce is supported during this challenging time,” Kemp said. “I ask Georgians to continue to support their local businesses by getting take-out, tipping well, and ordering your favorite products online, while also observing social distancing and following the directives of state and federal public health officials.”

Other emergency rules were issued last week expanding unemployment eligibility for applicants, suspending work search requirements and relieving employers of benefit charges for claims related to COVID-19.

Another rule assures that employers and non-profits will not be charged for coronavirus-related benefit claims. This means their current tax rate will not be affected, relieving them of the additional burden of higher unemployment taxes during the economic recovery expected to follow the pandemic.

“We understand Georgia businesses and workers are anxious during the COVID-19 public health crisis about how to take care of themselves, their families and their businesses,” Butler said. “We are making unprecedented modifications to policies to help all Georgians survive this economic hardship and get us all back to work.”

Butler said partial claims should be filed for both full-time and part-time employees. Filing of partial claims is being mandated for an employer to file on behalf of employees affected by COVID-19 and will expedite the issuance of payment.

The Georgia numbers mirrored the filing of unemployment claims across the country. Nationally, unemployment claims skyrocketed to 3.3 million last week, more than quadrupling the previous record high.

Bainbridge’s Department of Labor Office is currently closed to walk-in visitors, but can be reached by telephone at (229) 248-2618.