SAVANNAH, Georgia (WSAV) – Tens of thousands of Georgians lost their jobs during the pandemic and desperately sought help from the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL).

While many received unemployment benefits, others did not. Now a class action lawsuit could force GDOL to stand trial.

“The department doesn’t do its job,” says Emily Early of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of four plaintiffs.

The lawsuit against GDOL and the state of Georgia cites complaints of long delays and no communication from the department.

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“Again, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to and how many emails I’ve received from people who have just lost hope,” said Early.

The lawsuit seeks the money that the unemployed person owes as benefits and damages. Early expects others, perhaps many others, to join the lawsuit.

“This is an ongoing issue and yes we expect to receive a lot of calls and have already received calls and emails regarding requests to join the lawsuit or for more information,” Early said happening for the past 15 years Months so many people in this state. “

“It was absolutely heartbreaking. I actually had contact with a person who was on the verge of harming himself because of the financial devastation of the pandemic and the claims both she and his wife had pending with the Department of Labor for over a year. She said.

The lawsuit alleges that GDOL failed to comply with the law that guarantees punctuality and a due process for filing applications.

Many people who have been denied benefits have the right to appeal. The lawsuit cites information stating that the average waiting time to get an appeal (hearing) should be around 30 days or a month, but that in Georgia the average time to get a hearing is 217 days, or about seven months.

GDOL officials have said time and time again that applications need to be processed thoroughly and that it requires trained staff. The WSAV was also told last year that literally millions of applications had been processed.

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“We don’t think GDOL is doing everything it can,” said Early. “To the best of our knowledge, the workforce has not increased significantly.”

She also wanted to emphasize that not only low-income applicants have sought help from GDOL in the past year.

“We’ve heard from business owners, managers, and yes, lower-income workers. There are people from across the economy who haven’t heard from the Department of Labor or who are owed money, or who have been waiting months for an appeal, ”said Early.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler issued a statement expressing support for his department and condemning the legal action:

This is obviously another politically motivated lawsuit. As with previous lawsuits, we expect this lawsuit to be unfounded. These groups believe that unemployment insurance should be paid to all applicants regardless of their qualifications. Those same groups should care more about helping people get back into any of the hundreds of thousands of jobs currently available across the state of Georgia.