The runoff elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia on January 5, 2021 will determine control of the Senate and affect national policy across a wide range of areas. This fact sheet provides an overview of the likely impact of the Senate races on two key worker issues: access to unemployment benefits during the pandemic-induced recession, and raising the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour. The fact sheet presents data from the Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute on the impact on Georgia workers of senators’ policy positions on these issues.
If Senator David Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler are elected in January, pandemic unemployment insurance benefits are likely to be restored only to a very limited degree, if it all—and the federal minimum wage is likely to remain frozen at $7.25 per hour, as it has been since 2009. But if Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are elected to the Senate, jobless Georgians are likely to see unemployment benefits restored and extended for more of the pandemic-induced recession. And Georgia workers will be far more likely to see the federal minimum wage increased and gradually phased up to $15 an hour—the first increase in 11 years. The public should find out more about these and other issues critical to Georgians and ask the candidates to discuss their positions to better understand where they stand.
As the pandemic swept the nation in the spring, Congress approved expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the CARES Act—including an extra $600 per week to ensure that unemployed Georgians could actually pay their bills, since state UI benefits in Georgia and most of the country are very low.
When the $600 per week UI supplement expired in July, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue sided with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in refusing to extend it, causing UI benefits in Georgia to plummet to just $254 a week for the average unemployed worker—not nearly enough to allow those out of work to pay their bills and put food on the table.
Now, even those lower benefits are scheduled to end for many unemployed workers the day after Christmas. The Century Foundation projects that more than 330,000 Georgians will be cut off from this safety net and fall off a financial cliff, unless Congress acts to extend unemployment assistance. That figure includes nearly 147,000 Georgians receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides assistance to workers who are otherwise shut out of state unemployment benefits, such as gig workers, self-employed persons, church workers, and many part-time workers. It also includes more than 183,000 Georgians receiving Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for workers whose weeks of other jobless aid has run out. See Figure 2.
These are conservative projections and could end up being significantly worse for two reasons. First, Georgia’s PUA enrollment alone has remained nearly unchanged for the last three months, with net enrollment hovering at over 200,000. This indicates that employment prospects for gig workers, self-employed persons, church workers, and part-time workers—who are often underemployed—have not improved much at all recently. These working Georgians face a December 26 cutoff from possibly the only income they have left. Second, Georgia’s Department of Labor has yet to release all of its data on PEUC enrollment. Therefore, enrollment may be larger than projected.
Georgia Workers Facing Loss of CARES Act Unemployment Benefits on Dec. 26
In the past, Mitch McConnell, with the support of Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue, has called for restoring a lower $200 per week unemployment supplement, although they have refused to bring such a package to a vote or pass it.
Senators Perdue and Loeffler have been silent about the 330,000 Georgians now facing loss of their CARES Act unemployment benefits on December 26.
It is true that some of the unemployed Georgians losing their PEUC CARES Act benefits will be eligible for continued unemployment benefits under Georgia’s State Extended Benefits (EB) program. But EB is a poor substitute for PEUC because of its very restrictive eligibility rules. Only 600,000 jobless workers are on the program nationwide, and it has a number of roadblocks including a rule that excludes unemployed workers who were eligible for regular UI and PEUC, but who worked fewer than 20 weeks before losing their job.
Moreover, Georgia must pay the cost of EB benefits for as many as 13 weeks— not the federal government. Senators Perdue and Loeffler appear ready to saddle the state with the heavy cost of paying for those benefits.
Senate candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have both called for extending unemployment benefits and restoring the $600 per week supplement. A Democratic majority in the Senate would be expected to act quickly to approve further pandemic relief, including restoring and extending unemployment benefits.
Perdue and Loeffler’s opposition to restoring the $600 per week unemployment supplement and silence about the 330,000 Georgians about to lose CARES Act unemployment benefits come as the pandemic-induced unemployment crisis is hitting Black Georgians much harder than whites. During the pandemic, Black workers have been significantly overrepresented among Georgians losing their jobs and filing for unemployment. In the latest data from October, Black workers made up 63% of workers newly losing their jobs, while they represent just 31% of Georgia’s workforce. And the number of Black workers filing unemployment claims is now 70% higher than that for all other workers combined. See Figure 3.
Source: Century Foundation analysis
This stark skew is indicative of persistent impediments that Black workers face in the labor market—including employment discrimination, unequal pay, and occupational segregation in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality, tourism, entertainment, and other service sectors. These longstanding impediments are the reason that unemployment and underemployment among Black workers and other workers of color has often been double that of their white counterparts for decades.
If Senators Perdue and Loeffler are elected on January 5th and Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, the federal minimum wage is likely to remain frozen at $7.25 per hour. During his six years as majority leader, McConnell has consistently blocked any minimum wage increase from being considered or passed by the Senate.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the top corporate lobby groups opposed to raising the minimum wage, is spending millions to ensure that Senators Perdue and Loeffler keep their seats—so they and Mitch McConnell can continue blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage.
NELP Action Fund For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018 — Updated May 3, 2018
Tallahassee, FL—Floridians who lost pay and were out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma last year received little assistance from Governor Rick Scott and his administration. A new analysis of state data on Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action) shows that Governor Scott notched the worst record of any Florida governor in the last 30 years when it came to enabling Floridians to apply for and receive the federally-funded jobless aid.
“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” said Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”
Only 3,744 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma, a mere 53 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott Administration. That is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years. More than a third of those receiving DUA only saw their first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“I saw first-hand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” said Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and back-up phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”
Moreover, only 7,229 Floridians were able to even file a completed DUA claim after Irma—fewer than for any other major disaster except one (Hurricane Jeanne, the last of the four 2004 hurricanes) in the last 30 years in which DUA compensation totaled $1 million or more. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system failed to list DUA as an option, and its back-up phone lines often were shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The administration’s promises to fix the system never materialized.
By comparison, 26,370 DUA claims were filed in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and 8,506 received benefits—more than twice as many as in Florida after Irma. And that was despite Florida’s Irma-affected workforce being more than twice the size of that affected by Harvey in Texas, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.
“Governor Scott has made restricting access to unemployment benefits a cornerstone of his tenure in office,” said Dwight Bullard,political director of Florida New Majority. “From the rampant website problems attributed to his lack of compassion for families impacted by the ‘Great Recession’ or the suggestion that those receiving any government benefits should be drug tested. Governor Scott has proven time and time again that working families in Florida are not the constituency he is focused on. The hurricane relief debacle is just the latest in a line of anti-working class policies and efforts supported by Gov. Scott.”
Key findings in the analysis include the following:
Overall, Rick Scott has the worst record of any Florida governor in 30 years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. affected by a major disaster in 2017, and even though Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
That’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in 30 years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
Those lowest-in-30-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20 percent larger than it was in 2004.
Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53 percent—3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in 30 years after a major hurricane.
More than a third of Floridians receiving DUA after Irma only saw a first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after the hurricane.
Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53 percent of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly with the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.
The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver DUA aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment insurance (UI) program, now renamed Reemployment Assistance (RA). Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving those benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent—last among the 50 states—while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.
As of mid-November, the Scott Administration had processed only 30,646 disaster-related RA claims after Irma, compared to 136,811 disaster-related UI claims in Texas after Harvey.
“Sadly, Governor Rick Scott’s failure to help jobless Floridians post-Irma caps a long track record of slashing jobless aid and creating barriers to make it harder for unemployed Floridians to access such aid,” said NELP Action’s Paul Sonn. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, when Florida’s workers and small business owners found themselves out of work with no income and desperately needing help from the state, Governor Rick Scott was M.I.A. in delivering DUA unemployment aid.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott has highlighted as one of his successes his record in helping his state recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma – the most costly disaster ever to strike Florida. But when it came to delivering help to workers and small business owners who lost pay and were unemployed because Irma had shut down their places of work, Rick Scott’s record was the worst of any Florida governor in thirty years.
Hurricanes and other disasters can often leave businesses shuttered for extended periods of time as a result of damaged facilities, closed roads, utility outages, or displaced customers or workers. When that happens workers go unpaid and small business owners lose their incomes, leaving them unable to meet their living costs and causing great hardship for them and their families. Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is a critical program that responds to this need by providing cash assistance to both workers and small business owners when their paychecks are interrupted due to unemployment after a disaster.
But after Hurricane Irma, most Florida workers and small business owners were unable to access Disaster Unemployment Assistance. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system didn’t list DUA as an option for applying for assistance. And back-up phone lines were frequently shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The Scott Administration also failed to deliver on promises to fix the system, and they denied workers’ first weeks of benefits even when they said they wouldn’t.
The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver disaster unemployment aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment program. Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent — last among the 50 states — while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.
Predictably, the Scott Administration’s failures with its DUA system resulted in very few Floridians managing to apply for and receive benefits after Irma.
Here are the numbers on Governor Scott’s record:
Overall, Rick Scott hasthe worst record of any Florida governor in thirty years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. impacted by a major disaster in 2017 and Irma ranks as the 5th costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
As Table 1, shows, that’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in thirty years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
But Hurricane Jeanne was a statistical anomaly and in reality the Scott Administration’s record after Irma was the worst of any Florida governor in thirty years. Jeanne was an anomaly because it came on the heels of three other hurricanes during the 2004 season. As Table 1 shows, after the first three hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Ivan, many Floridians had applied for and were already receiving DUA and so they did not need to apply again after Jeanne.
Those lowest-in-thirty-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20% larger than it was in 2004.
Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53% – 3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in thirty years after a major hurricane.
More than a third of those receiving DUA benefits only received a first payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53% of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly to the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.
The Scott Administration’s poor record on post-hurricane jobless aid extended as well to regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits where it processed less than 25% as many claims after Irma as Texas did after Hurricane Harvey. Workers who qualify for regular UI after a disaster must apply for that benefit and are not eligible for DUA. After Irma, the Scott Administration had processed just 30,646 disaster-related claims for regular UI as of mid-November 2017 – more than two months after the disaster. By contrast, Texas processed 136,811 claims after Harvey – more than four times as many – despite the fact that the Florida workforce affected by Irma was far larger than that impacted by Harvey in Texas.
Table 1. Florida Governors' Track Records Distributing Disaster Unemployment Assistance after Major Hurricanes
Largest Florida Hurricanes, 1988-2018 + Texas's 2017 Hurricane Harvey
Nearly 7.7 million in the Hurricane Irma designated disaster counties in Florida, compared to less than 3.5 million in the Texas disaster counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) https://www.bls.gov/ces/cesharveyirma.htm
The following statement can be attributed to Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund:
“Donald Trump says he has a plan to provide six weeks of maternity leave to working women. From the very limited detail that has been provided, it appears he is proposing paying new mothers six weeks of unemployment benefits and financing the payments by ‘eliminating fraud’ in the unemployment insurance program.
“We do not have much more detail than this, but based on the bare bones outline provided, we are convinced that the proposal fails to meet the medical and caregiving needs of today’s working families and also could cause serious damage to the nation’s unemployment insurance program.
“First, the Trump plan does not appear to include new fathers, and it would not extend to other forms of leave covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This proposal would not provide payment for the various other medical and caregiving needs covered under federal law—such as up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, or to recover from a personal illness or injury.
“Second, the proposal appears to compensate new mothers for only six weeks at levels provided by their state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. Unemployment insurance benefit levels are controlled by state law. There is wide variation between states. Nationally, the average unemployment benefit is only $338 and covers only about a third of a worker’s average weekly wage. Six states have maximum rates below $300. For example, under the Trump plan, a new mother in Florida could not receive a weekly benefit greater than $275. The Trump proposal would provide a benefit that carries with it all the geographical disparities and state deficiencies currently facing the unemployment insurance program.
“Third, the unemployment insurance program has never been less ready to take on the administration and financing of a new program. As of the end of 2015, just 18 states—and none of the 13 largest states, where a significant share of the U.S. workforce resides—met a federally recommended measure of preparedness that advises states to have enough reserves in their UI funds to cover at least a year of a recession. Thus, when the next crisis hits, the result will most surely be a repeat of the excessive federal borrowing by state programs, and even more severe benefit cuts, that without question will hurt families struggling with unemployment and further cripple state economies. All evidence suggests the opposite is needed for a sustainable recovery.
“Fourth, Mr. Trump erroneously buys into exaggerated claims of fraud in the UI system to pay for the new program. There are not enough savings to be derived from unemployment insurance fraud to pay for his proposal. Between 2006 and 2015, unemployment insurance fraud by claimants has been estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor at between 2.3 and 3.2 percent of regular unemployment benefits paid. Over the past three years, a 3 percent fraud rate equates to a little more than $1 billion a year of regular unemployment benefits—far less than needed to pay for this proposal.
“UI ‘fraud’ has become the favored pay-for and punching bag of politicians who have never been committed to the program. Congress has already mandated that states impose tougher penalties on fraud, and the Obama administration has held states to higher performance standards in recovering overpaid UI benefits. These efforts have been to insure the integrity of a program that for 80 years has been a central pillar of economic security for working Americans facing the harsh consequences of involuntary job loss.
“Every responsible paid family and medical leave proposal to date has been premised on a reliable revenue stream from dedicated taxes paid by employees and/or employers. Trump’s plan would rely on the already inadequate funding of a neglected unemployment insurance program that is not prepared for the next recession in order to finance a limited-duration benefit that for most affected workers would not come close to half their regular paycheck, and that would leave out more workers than it would cover. He proposes this—all while taking a cynical swipe at jobless Americans by inaccurately suggesting that there is enough unemployment insurance fraud to foot the bill. This not a serious proposal; it is smoke and mirrors.”
The NELP Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund, a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director, NELP Action Fund:
“The Missouri Supreme Court has put down a marker today for economic justice on behalf of workers across the Show Me State. In a case involving a challenge to the Missouri Senate’s override of Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of HB 150—a 2015 bill that further slashed the state’s already-reduced number of weeks of unemployment insurance available to laid-off workers looking for new work—the court’s majority ruled that the override was unconstitutional. We agree, and we applaud the court for its diligence and considered judgment in this case.
“The state Senate, the court said, did not have the authority to override the governor’s veto of HB 150 in a special veto session, and that an override could only be constitutional if approved during the legislature’s regular session. The House did approve an override of the bill in regular session, but the Senate did not. Instead, Senate Republican leaders attempted to circumvent their constitutionally-proscribed procedures by approving an override in a special veto session triggered by an unrelated bill.
“The ruling voids the state Senate’s unconstitutional veto override, stating, ‘Because HB 150 was not passed over the governor’s veto, none of its provisions became law.’
“The ruling also lays bare the extreme measures—extra-legal measures—Republicans in the Missouri legislature have been willing to pursue in their fixation with inflicting harm on workers who suffer involuntary job loss through no fault of their own. In 2011, they had already reduced the maximum weeks of benefits to 20 weeks from the national standard of 26. HB 150 cut benefits further by imposing a sliding scale of 13 to 20 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate.
“Since January 1, 2016, Missouri has provided a maximum of 13 weeks, the second-fewest in the nation. Tens of thousands of hardworking Missourians who have lost jobs have suffered as a result. Today’s ruling overturns the sliding-scale scheme, restoring the 20 week maximum. But the damage to those already negatively affected cannot be undone.
“Judging from their past behavior, we suspect that Republican legislative leaders will again attempt to impose the cuts contained in HB 150. We urge them to cease and desist. Instead of renewing their heartless crusade against Missouri workers’ jobless-aid protections, Republican lawmakers should work with their Democratic colleagues to strengthen those unemployment insurance protections and restore at least 26 weeks of state benefits.”