The state’s labor department has updated its application for employees in need of unemployment benefits who do not qualify for state assistance.

The Georgia Department of Labor announced this past week it is updating its unemployment insurance questionnaire to include items that will better identify applicants who qualify for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funding.

A different set of wage verification questions, as well as a different process for certifying wage benefits, will now be part of the questionnaire. Employees who are seeking unemployment insurance may qualify for federal aid if they are ineligible for state benefits.

This funding provides unemployment benefits to those not ordinarily eligible as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was enacted on March 27 by the federal government.

The modified application launched on Monday. The department says that once the application is submitted, it will take several weeks to process.

The assistance is available to employees who have been laid off or have had their hours reduced, including individuals who are self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors or those with limited work history.

Kersha Cartwright, director of communications for the state’s labor department, said in an email those who do not have a W-2 wage form do not qualify for state benefits.

“This program is completely new and will cover individuals who have never qualified for benefits before,” Cartwright wrote. “Verifying wages is the tricky part.”

The unemployment rate increased 1.1 points to 4.2% from 3.1% in March, according to an April 16 labor department release. A year ago, the rate was 3.7%.

“We’re seeing our employer-filed claims are accounting for 75% of our initial claims,” Cartwright said. “That’s a really good thing. The (labor) commissioner (Mark Butler) filed a rule a while ago that mandated employers file on behalf of their employees. That’s a much quicker way to file claims for Georgians.”

Unemployment claims showed an increase of 290,068 claims or 1,292% in March and were up by 293,774 claims — or 1,567% — from March 2019.

Cartwright said more than 861,000 claims have been processed since March 14, which is about 10% of the state’s population.

The unemployment assistance provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to qualifying individuals who are otherwise able to work and available for work but are unemployed, partially or completely, and unable to during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

These benefits are retroactive for weeks of partial or total unemployment starting on or after Jan. 27. The CARES Act says the financial aid cannot be paid for weeks of unemployment after Dec. 31.

On April 2, the labor department announced the public health crisis forced 133,820 employees to file for unemployment insurance during the week of March 22-28 due to being partially or totally unemployed.

A release from the department said this was a 1,102% increase over the prior week with 12,140 claims, more claims than were filed during the 2008 recession. Across the nation, these claims increased 101% to 6.6 million across the nation.

This number jumped to 390,132 claims during the week of March 29 through April 4, meaning the Department of Labor handled more claims in seven days than throughout 2019, according to another release by the department. Most of the claims came from employees in the accommodation and food service industries.

The department issued payments of $41.7 million in unemployment benefits to 168,319 Georgians that week.

GDOL Commissioner Mark Butler wrote in an email he does not yet have local data on how many claims have been filed in the past month. He said a claim typically takes three weeks to process because employee information needs to be verified.

“Our employees are working extremely hard right now, most of them putting in six to seven day working weeks with 10 to 14 hours a day,” Butler said. “Just last week, we paid out to 300,000 claimants alone. We do have a high participation rate of employers, which is good news.”

For more information about the assistance, visit https://dol.georgia.gov/pua.