Summer unemployment benefits no longer available to crossing guards

A change in the rules governing state unemployment benefits for seasonal workers is cutting into the income of some of Augusta’s lowest-paid public safety personnel.

School crossing guards, considered seasonal sheriff’s office employees, can no longer obtain the benefits during the summer months, officials said Tuesday.

“We hate it, because most of these folks who work as school crossing guards, they’re on fixed incomes,” sher­iff’s Capt. Scott Gay said. “They’re the most dedicated folks in the world.”

No one in city government recalled how long the practice had been commonplace.

City Administrator Fred Russell said he was surprised to learn that longtime city workers might rely on unemployment benefits for part of their regular salaries.

The city employs about 75 part-time workers as crossing guards, most at an annual salary of $7,386, according to personnel records.

Georgia Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall said the change came about after public school employees and others complained about seasonal private school workers drawing unemployment when school was out.

While school bus drivers in other counties have protested the change, it won’t affect Richmond County bus drivers, veteran bus driver Sallie Thomas said.

Thomas and school system attorney Pete Fletcher said the drivers, like teachers, are paid 12 months of the year despite most having the summers off.

“We’ve always been told we’d be denied unemployment,” Thomas said.

Among those it will affect is school crossing guard Louvenia Gray, who has ensured children cross safely since 1970.

Gray started off at Joseph Lamar Elementary, then moved to John Milledge. Now she’s at Tutt Middle School.

Gray said the benefits weren’t available in 1970, but became so later.

“I did apply for it, but I was told I couldn’t receive it this year,” she said. “It helped a lot. Every little bit helps.”

Gray said she won’t stop doing the job she loves.

“I just said you do the best you can with what you have,” she said. “I love it and I’m going back.”

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