Georgia might cut jobless benefits to repay debt

State has borrowed $721 million

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ATLANTA — Georgia could cut jobless benefits for people who are out of work in order to repay the federal government for $721 million the state borrowed to help the unemployed.

Bills for the debt are coming due, and cutting back on jobless benefits is one option being considered to repay the money, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The state will send a $21.4 million check to Washington this week, the first payment on debt run up since late 2009.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says he is considering several repayment options, one of which is cutting benefits. That could mean cutting the weekly amount or the number of weeks of eligibility.

“That’s not fair,” said Katrina Cunningham, a laid-off waitress applying for benefits last week at a north Atlanta unemployment office. “People have needs, not wants, and they need the money. They need to survive.”

Butler said he opposes raising or re-instituting taxes employers pay into the unemployment insurance fund.

“I believe we have to keep these taxes at a minimum right now because they’d be an additional burden on businesses that would keep them from hiring people,” Butler said. “We’ve got to get these people back to work and increase revenue and this problem would take care of itself.”

By next month, he is expected to offer Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders some options.

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